When my mother was surprised, which wasn’t often, she’d stop in her tracks and say, “Will wonders never cease!” That’s how I feel today.
Last night’s community meeting was a wonder. Residents spoke, and the alderman seemed to actually enjoy interacting with her constituents. She, building architect Doug Smith, and CHA boss Eugene Jones didn’t offer much in the way of solid information, but they were personable and made it clear they heard what was being said.
I will say that I do not believe the claim that the drawings released over the weekend were just “concepts.” I agree with residents who feel the design selected for West Ridge is too modern for our neighborhood.
There was overwhelming support for senior housing, and several people noted that 30 units aren’t enough. Jones said he’s looking to spend money in view of the cutbacks coming from Washington, but it should be noted that CHA has between $440-500M in the bank, depending on your source. Thus concerns that this project has to proceed quickly lest the money disappear seem questionable.
He also said he’s looking for areas to develop. I suggest he look at the one-half block long vacant lot at Morse and Western, just down the street. It would be perfect for senior or multigenerational affordable housing.
I should also note that a polite young man, 38 years old and confined to a wheelchair, was disappointed that there would be no place in the new building for him. He is unable, he said, to find affordable housing. What solutions can the community offer him?
No decision has been made on whether seniors in the building can have pets. Potential residents should begin sending Mr. Jones some of the hundreds of studies that show conclusively that having pets helps people age better.
Mr. Jones also said that he’s opening a list of potential residents in January 2018. When asked why he couldn’t just move the names of those West Ridge seniors already on CHA waiting lists to a new list, he said they weren’t “certified,” whatever that means (I didn’t understand the explanation). Residents pointed out that, for one senior building, more than 1,000 people applied (remember, there are 30 units). It seems to me that those already on the CHA list should not have to apply again, so that’s something that requires clarification.
I’ve been on a CHA wait list myself for several years; with two dogs and a cat, I don’t expect to find a place in the new building. But I wonder if the reason so many languish for so long on CHA wait lists is because of some administrative snafu like not being “certified” and not knowing it. And I do wonder how much political influence will be wielded in the selection of tenants. If you’ve waited patiently on the list for several years, you should be able to move ahead of new applicants. You shouldn’t die waiting.
Parking took up a lot of time. Let’s face it: it is now, has been, and will continue to be a problem. There’s never enough of it, and building it uses precious land that could be used for housing. There are several vacant stores, lots, and buildings in the area, so perhaps a little creativity on the part of residents working with the alderman, the city, and nearby property owners will result in a solution.
The lack of shopping and good transit (the 49B bus is slow and sometimes on weekends runs once an hour because drivers just don’t show up) will be problems for residents of the building. Personally, I’m opposed to any commercial space in the new building. I think the nearby vacancies should be filled first. The alderman might consider asking for volunteers to serve on committees for parking, commercial development, etc. Let the groups choose their own leaders and work on solutions to the most pressing problems, working with the alderman, CHA, and the architect. Resident involvement is key to making this project work.
Finally–but importantly–it appears we need to be very vocal about our determination to keep the old library available as a public building for community use. I’d prefer to see a senior center there to serve as an anchor for the south end of the neighborhood, and I am concerned that all the attention paid to the new library, and the understandable desire to serve the seniors who’ll be living upstairs, will make people forget that other seniors need services, too.
I do want to say that, as she starts her seventh year in office, I have finally witnessed the alderman comfortably interacting with residents. It was good to see.