The Valdosta Daily Times
In early April, Valdosta City Council members voted almost unanimously to approve the submission of a plan to HUD that would address socio-economic problems for citizens – except for District 1 council member James Wright.
“I felt as if we didn’t have enough time to review the document,” said Wright, as the 100 page document was not provided until the day before the vote.
The document in question is the “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing” and was prepared by a Texas firm, J-QUAD Planning Group. The study is required of any city that receives funds directly under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program though the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which Valdosta became eligible for in 2004.
“I think the analysis gives us some very important information for the community to come together to look at addressing the issues that were raised and it will certainly take community leaders and organizations along with the city to look at the issues that were raised,” said Mara Register, assistant to the City Manager.
Wright and other community members object to the way the analysis was handled and are creating their own work group to address the issues they say the city is not.
“None of us really had a chance to get a thorough look at the document,” said Wright. “I didn’t really see any reason for us to be in a hurry to pass the document at the time to allow not only council members time but also concerned citizens time to provide input.”
Wright has lived in the community most of his life and has served on council for two full terms. He has been through this process in the past but is organizing a steering committee of local leaders from both rich and poor communities to develop a plan to address these long-standing issues. The analysis includes sobering details of poverty, single parenthood, unemployment, lack of education and low income.
So far, Wright has established a core group of prominent leaders from all over the city, including Bishop Wade McCrae, retired educator Sam Allen, funeral home owner Edgar Roberts and local business owner Roy Taylor.
McCrae has seen a lot over the last 26 years as a local minister and childcare facility owner. He has helped people who cannot pay their rent, who are evicted even from housing projects and continuous violence.
He said employment and education are in critical need of attention.
“We need a better system to provide jobs since it would probably change some of the choices young men are making,” said McCrae. “There are adult men that have families that can’t find work and our Industrial Authority needs to do something to attract better-paying jobs for our community.”
While he admits there are obstacles for men and women of color in Valdosta, his message is usually one that brings responsibility to the individual and does not blame society at large. Although they hear the message of personal choice often, he said it can be difficult for a person who has never experienced the other side to make necessary personal changes.
“I believe everyone can change their circumstances given a fair chance. I truly believe that all men are created equal,” said McCrae. “Some things in society can be a catalyst for change or an obstacle to keep us from changing, but at the end of the day, you can’t blame anybody but one’s self.”
Edgar Roberts said these problems are nothing new, but something still needs to be done.
He focused on the lack of jobs and the unavailability of public transportation for many residents to attend employment opportunities.
Roy Taylor also supports Wright’s commitment to change. He points out education and job availability as two of the major issues, but believes the welfare system has created a society of people who do not provide educational or motivational encouragement in the home.
“When you’re not graduating 47 percent of the high school students, something is wrong,” said Taylor. “Our school superintendent is working his heart out, but most of the ones on welfare are not getting involved with their kids. Once they get food stamps, government assistance and child support from multiple fathers, they don’t have to work.”
Taylor said these problems have existed for much longer than the recent study and he is concerned that a lack of education, decent-paying jobs and equal access to opportunities will create a society ridden with crime.
Local civil rights activists George Rhynes and Johnny Robinson Sr. said they have filed federal complaints because the City of Valdosta did not allow a period of public input on the Analysis of Impediments before council approved submittal to HUD.
“I want to try to find a way to bring people together instead of being so divided,” said Robinson. “The obstacles are greater than the actual findings. We’ve got to end it here and now, get on the right track and spread the wealth. They need to make some changes — it’s devastating.”
THE STUDY’S FINDINGS
Using 2010 Census estimates, the “Analysis of Impediments” details a number of obstacles that discourage African-American populations from achieving similar quality of life standards enjoyed by Valdosta’s white community.
Here are a few of the figures and findings from the document:
• The percentage of female-headed households with children among white households was 4.9 percent, compared to 26.4 percent in African-American households.
• Between 2005 and 2009, 5.9 percent of white persons age 16 and over reported being unemployed. African-American persons in the same age group reported a 14.1 percent rate.
• According to 2005-2009 American Community Survey, the median household income was $37,490 for white households and $20,876 for African-American households.
• The poverty rate among African-Americans was 35 percent of the total population and 20 percent for white populations.
• According to 2005-2009 ACS estimates, 30.2 percent of African-Americans age 25 and above reported less than a high school education compared to 7.6 percent of whites.
The first steering committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 17 at 6 p.m. at W.G. Nunn Elementary School located at 1610 Lakeland Avenue. For more information, contact James Wright at (229) 560-3941 or email@example.com.
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