Residents unleash at MOTA meeting

Northwest citizens voice concerns about City’s plans to upgrade.
MOTA: Angela Penn and Wayne Leftwich, two members of the facilitating group conducting the MOTA meeting held March 11, 2019 at Goodwill Industries on Melrose Ave. NW. – Photos by S. Hale

by S. Rotan

A plan developed by the City in 2015 to revitalize certain area quadrants was of major concern. One particular region addressed, based on a project, known as Melrose-Orange Target Area (MOTA) is bordered by 10th St. NW to 24th St. NW (east/west) and from Hanover Ave. NW to Loudon Ave. NW (north/south).

The federally funded project is the first stage to engage citizens in the massive undertaking to revitalize a forgotten and underserved community. 

To this end, City officials have held public monthly meetings to encourage input on the project that conceivably will better serve not only target area citizens but all concerned as well as future generations.

Ian Shaw

A survey conducted by MOTA organizers showed housing as a major concern among inhabitants of the “target area.” It was one of several issues that took center-stage at the meeting held March 11 at Goodwill Industries on Melrose Ave. NW. During the session, lasting nearly three hours, a Habitat for Humanity (HFH) representative reported over two-dozen major and minor housing rehabs presently underway around the northwest target area (i.e. Grayson, Loudon, Fairfax and Moorman Avenues, etc.). The report included several dwellings that were demolished as well.

As a major project partner with the city, HFH, has been working closely to actualize the proposed plan.

HFH is an organization that provides qualified applicants assistance to build, improve and in some cases pay for their own home. The Habitat program, based on income, focuses on a percentage of the population making within 25–60% of the area median income.
“That doesn’t help folks that are 25 and under, nor those 60 and older,” said Brian Clark. “We are pleased to celebrate two more families moving into homes and we’re looking into about several more in about three or four months.”

Among the topics deemed significant to the project’s acceptance among citizens was “equity,” (i.e. equipping neighborhoods equally). Senior city planner Wayne Leftwitch gave a detailed account of the plan’s objective. Using facts supported by PowerPoint images, he elaborated on the dynamics of “equity” regarding the proposed venture

“A comprehensive plan is aspirational, it’s big picture, long range, the policies and goals are general and not super-specific,” Leftwitch explained. In accordance with and beyond guidelines set by the American Planning Association regarding “best practices” concerning a comprehensive plan, listed among other guidelines was “creation of livable built environments, (i.e. infrastructure) and a resilient economy.”

Added to that list was “equity,” an element considered by the local focus group as significant to the MOTA plan.

Despite the meeting’s intent to discuss the proposed plan, a few attendees used the session to air certain grievances regarding current issues as well as the City’s gentrification of Historic Gainsboro. The project, that began in the late 80’s under the guise of “urban renewal,” continues to this day!

Lavonia Billingsley

Among the most outspoken were longtime northwest residents William and wife Lavonia Billingsley who spoke out about such issues as excessive trash and northwest neighborhood road conditions.

“I am so tired of all the trash in this northwest area,” said Billingsley. “My husband calls down to the city trying to clean up the neighborhood on these main streets as Melrose, Shenandoah and Salem Turnpike.”

Visibly disgruntled, she also talked about the countless number of blighted houses, referring to them as “eyesores.”
“The City talks the talk but the deal is not going to move forward until they (City officials) walk the walk,” said Billingsley who asked for accountability following comments by Angela Penn.

Brenda Powell

“The folks I hold accountable are the ones we put into office and the staff members at the director level that are responsible for the departments, (in question),” she responded. Penn, a volunteer facilitator with the project is also VP, economic & real estate development, Total Action for Progress (TAP), one of several project partners at the meeting.

“Part of what we (facilitators) have been hearing at these meetings, is that there have been so many things that have occurred in the past that there hasn’t been recognition or acknowledge of and that there hasn’t been healing from,” said Penn explaining the purpose of the meetings–deemed futile by many at the well-attended gathering.

“Given that, we’ve been riding the same old wheel round-and-round and now we are trying to gain momentum to move forward so that there can be accountability… and transparency. Yes the plan is wide and vast and will cover many years, but what we’re hearing from people is we need some short-term wins right now.”

“Our role here is to listen to your (residents) voices because this plan can only be as good as what we, as citizens make it,” Penn added.

Michelle Davis, City Councilwoman

“It’s incredibly frustrating how slow everything moves in government,” said Michelle Davis as the only City Council member at the meeting.

“For somebody who wants to solve things… you have to consider the seven members who sit on Council, all have their own things they each want to solve. I’m here because I want to hear what ideas there were and also to hear where the problems are.”
Davis said she understands and admits she walks down her street and “there’s trash everywhere and some of it comes from the people that live on my street.”

Brenda Hale, president, local NAACP raised the issue of proper allocation of funds by the City. “Where is the financial allocation that should be appropriated for what needs to be done?” Where is the formula, whose in charge of the formula and when can we see the formula,” she asked. “What will the formula be like because we know with budgets, only a certain amount is going to be allocated and everybody is waiting for the big dream and you can only piecemeal the finances to the mission.”

Regardless to efforts by the city and its partners, however well-meaning they purport to be, many in the community will forever remain to be skeptical about future plans based on past procedures by the city regarding Black neighborhoods.

The next MOTA Stakeholders meeting will be held Tuesday, March 26 – Gainsboro Branch Library, 5 – 7 p.m. Scheduling for future meetings may be found by logging on to the Roanoke City Stakeholders meeting schedule or by calling Wayne Leftwich, Senior City Planner, at (540) 853-1104.