By BROOKE WANSER
Nearly two dozen people crammed into a small room at city hall Thursday morning as the housing commission held a lively discussion on how to improve outreach efforts regarding affordable housing.
“We’ve had many discussions over the past month of how we can be active in the housing commission work,” John Besser, the chair of the commission, said.
The organization’s purpose, he said, is to promote and plan and to educate the community on housing.
“I don’t think that we have, as a group, done a concerted effort to do that other than on particular projects,” he said.
Besser asked the commission to develop a PowerPoint presentation and several talking points for community groups, like rotaries and church groups.
But changing the mindset of those in homeowner’s associations, Ward 2 Alderman Dana McLendon said, is vital to the commission’s goal.
“If you guys don’t do this, you might as well disband,” McLendon said. “Every time a project comes up, a certain group of people are galvanized in opposition. They come to the board, and they say ‘NIMBY’ [an acronym for ‘not in my backyard’],” he said. “Until they stop doing that, it’s going to be a political tug of war.”
“I’ve never been to an HOA meeting that was pleasant,” housing commissioner Jeffrey Caruth said. Caruth is the homebuilder for Regent Homes, the group behind Berry Farms.
“If we let the neighborhoods be more involved, I think that would be a better place to do it,” he said.
“You’ve got to wage a long-term mission to get people to understand that it’s not bad for them to have affordable housing projects come up in their neighborhood,” McLendon insisted.
“You say affordable housing, to most people it means poor, ghetto, public housing,” Wayne Weaver, a commission member, said.
McLendon said the commission needs to point out the economic benefits that affordable housing brings to a community.
“You’re not going to sell the moral imperative,” he said. “You need to make it clear that there’s an economic advantage to having these projects come near them.”
That advantage, he said, is having professionals like schoolteachers and members of law enforcement able to afford housing in the city. This factor would, in turn, cut down on traffic.
Commission member Elizabeth Wanczak, who ran last fall for Ward 4 alderman, agreed.
“I think we’re not making a strong enough economic argument,” she said. “There is a huge missed opportunity there.”
The discussion also centered around the city-owned Hill Property, which has several nonprofit organizations eyeing it for affordable housing options.
A neighborhood meeting will be held at city hall on February 15 at 5 p.m. to discuss possible options for the property.