PHOTO: City officials and community leaders from Victoria’s Queen City neighborhood met July 1 at Christ’s Kitchen to discuss strategies for equitable community development. Shown from left are Christ’s Kitchen board member Bill Redding, City of Victoria Special Projects Manager Keisha Smith, Police Chief Roberto Arredondo, Christ’s Kitchen Executive Director Trish Hastings, Assistant City Manager Mike Etienne, Christ’s Kitchen board President Bob Redding, The Humility Project Director Kim Pickens and Community Appearance Manager Christy Youker.
With more than 20 years of experience in community development, Assistant City Manager Dr. Mike Etienne knows that improvement plans can’t succeed if some neighborhoods are left out.
“Improving our neighborhoods equitably will make our city a better place to live,” Etienne said. “When our whole city prospers, we have a better chance of improving our economy, encouraging investment and attracting visitors and new residents.”
Here are a few focus areas that City leaders are keeping in mind for helping underserved neighborhoods:
Community engagement and collaboration
Etienne and other City officials recently met with community leaders from the Queen City neighborhood at Christ’s Kitchen to discuss ways they can work together to improve residents’ lives.
Support and participation from residents is a key component of an effective community development strategy, Etienne said. Local nonprofits play an important role by bringing residents together, providing and/or spreading the word about resources and acting as liaisons so that residents’ needs can be addressed properly.
“It really takes a village,” Etienne said.
PHOTO: Kids pose for a photo with their new bikes during a bike rodeo hosted by the Victoria Police Department on June 9 at Christ’s Kitchen.
Community policing is an important philosophy for the Victoria Police Department and Police Chief Roberto Arredondo. This practice of connecting with residents, rather than simply responding to crime, was seen in action when the department hosted a bike rodeo in Queen City on June 9 at Christ’s Kitchen. Wal-Mart North Navarro donated the bikes for the event.
“We were able to give bikes to kids who’d never even been on a bike before,” Arredondo said. “It’s so important for us to build those relationships with the community so that they know they can come to us for help.”
Arredondo is also passionate about reducing the fear of crime, and he mentioned the possibility of pursuing grants for security improvements in public areas. The City also plans to upgrade lighting throughout the southside within the next couple of months as part of a citywide lighting project.
Weedy lots, dilapidated buildings and other code enforcement violations can be an obstacle to building community pride. As part of the City’s efforts to eliminate blight, Code Enforcement works aggressively to demolish vacant and abandoned substandard buildings, some of which have damage dating back to Hurricane Harvey.
The City does not demolish occupied homes unless it is truly necessary (because of safety reasons, for example). Development Services Director Julie Fulgham could only remember one time that this happened; in that case, the City worked with the resident to find new housing.
When it comes to property maintenance, Code Enforcement always seeks to educate residents and achieve voluntary compliance before taking enforcement action. Attendees at the Christ’s Kitchen meeting discussed how to improve code enforcement in Queen City while supporting and providing resources to residents who fall behind on their property upkeep through no fault of their own.
PHOTO: About 160 volunteers helped residents move brush and bulky trash to their curbs during the Silver City neighborhood cleanup in March.
In addition to its citywide cleanups in visible areas, Keep Victoria Beautiful also hosts neighborhood cleanups that help residents with cleaning their own yards while connecting them with resources.
“If we can work with the community and encourage them to take pride, they will be more likely to keep the neighborhood looking nice after we leave,” said Community Appearance Manager Christy Youker. “During other cleanups, we’ve helped residents who have had junk or tires on their properties for years, and they might not realize that the City can haul trash away for them.”
Keep Victoria Beautiful will host a neighborhood cleanup in Queen City next spring. Youker also reminded community leaders at the Christ’s Kitchen meeting that nonprofits and community groups can apply for beautification grants.
Neighborhood park improvements
PHOTO: The City installed solar-powered LED lighting at Queen City Park in 2021.
The City’s Parks & Recreation master plan, which was adopted last year, affirmed the importance of investing in neighborhood parks, which give residents a way to enjoy outdoor activities without having to drive there. Queen City already has a neighborhood park—Queen City Park—that could benefit from additional resources and security upgrades.
Housing needs aren’t one-size-fits-all, and the City has partnered with different nonprofits to come up with solutions. The City is working with Habitat for Humanity to provide repair grants to residents with roof or exterior damage.
Residents who’ve been priced out of the housing market may soon be able to afford homes through the City’s infill housing program, which encourages construction of low-cost homes primarily in low-income neighborhoods. This program is funded by the Victoria Housing Finance Corporation and the federal community development block grant program.
PHOTO: The streets in the Cimarron subdivision were sealed with Onyx seal coating in 2021.
Not all street projects are costly and time-consuming. When roads are in good shape, the City uses a technique called seal coating to preserve their condition and prevent costly repairs later (like putting shingles on a roof to prevent damage).
Queen City is scheduled for sealing in 2023 using black Onyx seal coating. When the project finishes, the roads will be dark and smooth like the roads in Cimarron, Silverado and other neighborhoods that have been sealed recently.
When it comes to breaking the cycle of generational poverty, Etienne is a firm believer in teaching a man to fish.
“The best way to alleviate poverty is by helping people to become self-sufficient,” Etienne said. “In some cases, that could mean providing residents with job training opportunities in high-demand career fields so they can provide better lives for themselves and their children.”
The City is partnering with Workforce Solutions and Victoria College to explore ways to improve access to job training. At the Christ’s Kitchen meeting, attendees discussed other ways to remove barriers to job training and employment, such as helping residents obtain IDs and other documentation.
What about gentrification?
Gentrification happens when residents are priced out of their neighborhoods because of rising property values and rental costs. It is a common unintended consequence of neighborhood revitalization, but it can be avoided or reduced through careful planning.
Here are some policies that the City is following to avoid gentrification:
- Ensure that resources are provided to residents who are at risk of being displaced
- Ensure that City-managed resources are only available to low-income households
- Ensure that new infill homes are priced for low- to moderate-income residents
- Ensure that repair grants are available
- Raise awareness of the property tax homestead exemption for residents over 65
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Sam Hankins is the communications specialist for the City of Victoria.