‘Most distressed’

Published 11:42 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Grant: Officials from the city, Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gathered Wednesday for a check presentation to the authority for a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant. From left are Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson, SRHA Board of Commissioners Chairman Theresa Provost, SRHA Executive Director Clarissa McAdoo, HUD Region 3 Regional Administrator Jane C.W. Vincent, HUD Field Office Director Carrie Schmidt and HUD Public Housing Program Center Director Jerryl E. Bennett.

Suffolk communities get undesirable distinction

Officials with the city, Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and others gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate the local agency receiving a grant of more than a quarter-million dollars from HUD.

The $255,656 grant was one of 13 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants totaling $3.6 million given throughout the country to help with efforts to revitalize housing.

“We’re here today, because we have some good news and we have some bad news,” said Jaime Bordenave, a consultant with The Community Group who has been working on the project.

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The good news, he said, was the grant. “The bad news is you made the list of the top 13 most distressed housing communities.”

The money will be used to plan a renovation of the housing authority’s oldest buildings — the Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick communities — as well as revitalization efforts for the entire area, officials said.

The two communities were constructed in the late 1970s. Bordenave told roughly 50 visitors at the check presentation about some of the problems with the buildings and obsolete public housing in general.

“Most public housing is 40, 50, even 60 years old and has outlived its useful life as a physical structure,” he said.

When most public housing in existence today was built, he added, many of the residents did not have vehicles, so many developers did not worry about parking. Amenity standards have changed, and so has the need for public safety.

And the two communities in question don’t have a single handicap-accessible unit between them, Bordenave added.

“The neighborhood lacks what the authority needs to be able to market it,” he said.

But while the project includes renovation of the housing units and their immediate surroundings, it is much larger than just that.

“We’re rebuilding lives of residents,” Bordenave said.

The authority has identified a target area that stretches from the Great Dismal Swamp in the south to Constance Road in the north, and from John F. Kennedy Middle School to Carolina Road.

Partnerships on all fronts — Suffolk Public Schools, transportation authorities, Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, Davis Boulevard LLC, the developers of an adjacent proposed neighborhood, and others — all eventually will be involved in making the project a reality, officials said Wednesday.

In addition, officials hope to work with the owner of the White Marsh Shopping Plaza to create more job opportunities there for nearby residents.

“This is a very important moment,” Jane C.W. Vincent, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said at the check presentation. “I am looking to you guys to make this one of the models.”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson and Vice Mayor Charles Brown also were in attendance and pledged their support.

“This has not been a short road, it’s not been an easy road, but it’s been a great beginning,” Johnson said.

Brown praised SRHA Executive Director Clarissa McAdoo, comparing her to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

“Just when you thought the game was over, she threw the touchdown,” he said. “She’s been working for this for a long, long, long time. This is the day that we move forward.”