Take control of the problem

Published 9:05 pm Thursday, January 12, 2012

With a quarter-million-dollar check from the federal government in hand, the city of Suffolk has set out to make a plan to renovate two of the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s oldest and most battered communities.

The Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick public housing communities will be the beneficiaries of one of only 13 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants issued around the nation, meaning, as a consultant put it on Wednesday, the communities “made the list of the top 13 most distressed housing communities.”

It’s surely a distinction without honor. And it’s hardly a surprise to anyone who has ventured into the two communities, not to mention inside the apartments there. Both are among Suffolk’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, both are among the city’s most dangerous places and both are places where it’s not unusual to see poverty spread across multiple generations.

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Residents of these communities describe living conditions that should be unacceptable in America today. Bug-infested apartments, open-air drug dealing, street violence and unsanitary living conditions are common reports from those who live there. Some of those who make the reports plead for help in turning their communities around; others just demand change.

City and state officials agree there’s a need for redevelopment in the area that includes Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick, and they are calling on a variety of agencies and private companies to form a partnership aimed at “rebuilding the lives of residents,” the consultant told a group of officials and guests celebrating the grant on Wednesday.

It should be evident, however, that one group which must contribute to any partnership in order for it to be successful is the group of people living in the two communities. Unfortunately, there’s reason for skepticism regarding how much some of the folks there are willing to participate in improving their own living conditions.

Consider, for instance, the fact that the townhouse communities are only about 40 years old, yet the buildings suffer the types of problems one might expect in structures twice their age. Consider further that many of the communities’ problems indicate a widespread willingness to live with unacceptable behavior that is encouraged by years of low expectations.

In short, the residents of Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick share a portion of the responsibility for some of the problems that plague their communities. An attitude of absolute intolerance to crime in their neighborhoods would eventually result in the virtual elimination of at least the crimes that most folks see. A sense of responsibility to take care of their homes would translate into fewer problems of deterioration in such a short term.

It should be noted there are fine people who live in both communities, people who care about what’s happening to their neighborhoods and their homes, people who desire to improve their living situations by improving their lives, people who are not satisfied with the mediocre results that accrue from low expectations.

Those are the people housing officials need to involve in the early phases of the planning process for the community renovations. And those are the people to whom they should listen especially closely when it comes to setting standards, rules and ordinances for the communities that result from those renovations.

It’s high time good people in Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick rose up and took control of their neighborhoods. If they don’t, all of the problems of their current communities eventually will follow them into the new ones.