What drew you to housing-related and racial equity nonprofit work, and why has accessing affordable housing in Raleigh become so challenging?
It is challenging for people to access quality, safe, affordable housing. People are feeling the pressure because incomes are not keeping pace with the cost of living. They still work 40 to 60 hours weekly just to make ends meet. It’s not acceptable. When do you spend time with your family if you’re working all the time? Imagine what it’s like for a single parent who has to manage home, go to work every day and pursue their own personal careers, and put themselves in a better position to earn higher income. It’s impossible. Everybody wants to come to Raleigh and Wake County. It’s great to live in a city that is so attractive, but that creates upward pressures on the cost of living here.
You led community engagement efforts as DHIC’s co-project manager for the Washington Terrace redevelopment project. Why is community engagement important?
When the property was being sold, it had all the makings of a market-rate development opportunity—not affordable. The pre-existing housing was affordable for people living there at the time. The neighborhood had such a rich history, dating back to 1950, when it was the only place that upwardly mobile African American professionals could live outside of public housing. Before we turned one morsel of dirt, we needed to introduce ourselves as the owners. People didn’t know us, and they thought, ‘They’re gonna come in, and everybody’s going to be displaced.’ And we said, ‘We’re here to do this process together. We’re here to be of service to you.’ It took time to build a relationship. Our word at the time didn’t mean anything. We had to back that up with actions. We had a series of resident meetings around the redevelopment master planning process and did everything we could to ensure the barriers to accessing those meetings were removed. We had meetings at the Tarboro Road Community Center, only a few blocks away. They could’ve walked there, but we did a shuttle. We did design charrettes in one of the vacant units . People could drop in and provide feedback.
You’ve lived and raised your sons in Southeast Raleigh. What does the community mean to you?
One of the women from Washington Terrace talked about how a unit had been converted, back in the ‘50s, to a library where a resident was teaching the youth how to read. You could walk to the store safely, and there were community gardens grown in the backyards. You could go and get your fresh vegetables and fruits from a neighbor. They talked about the parade of bikes with little tassels on the end that would be streaming down the street each Christmas when every kid got a bike. That inspired me. We have to recreate that somehow. That sense of ownership, place of belonging, and a place of community. We long for that today, quite frankly. We live in a society where we don’t know each other, and everybody’s on technology. Everybody’s blinds are drawn, and nobody sits on their front porches. We took all that feedback and tried to create a more contemporary community that had features like that. This is why there are porches and balconies where people can sit out and decorate. These are things the residents said they wanted.
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