After a 90-minute meeting Tuesday night, Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer pledged to put city effort immediately into fixing broken street lights, replacing missing street signs and completing other small public works projects in Rosedale, where 65+ Homewood residents showed up to talk about maintenance concerns in the historically black, low-income neighborhood.
But he refused to seal that declaration by signing a petition asking for much, much more.
“That’s not really how it works,” McBrayer told member Jeremy Love, a Rosedale resident who since January has been circulating a change.org petition asking for housing help for elderly and disabled, new playgrounds at the Lee Community Center and park, retail/business development, historic recognition, signage and gateways, and funding for an economic development plan similar to one in West Homewood. Love is a member–but apparently a frustrated one–of the Rosedale Community Development Corporation, an advocacy group that has met regularly for years and which officially hosted the mayor and two councilmen at last night’s meeting.
Despite the meeting length, it adjourned with no clear next step and apparent disagreement between two RCDC factions and even among audience members about what course of action to take.
The group, led by Dennis Bush, was “moderated” last night by RCDC member Doug Clapp, a Samford classics professor and Rosedale resident who has been working in the neighborhood since 2001. Clapp said it was he, not Love, who invited the mayor and Ward 1 reps Britt Thames and Andy Gwaltney after residents had compiled a list of their concerns during a meeting in November, including a demand for public clean-up of dilapidated properties.
At their request, the city in January identified 13 properties that meet the criteria for formal abatement (public repair or demolition of unsafe structures). The police chief was also given six locations to investigate where there were disabled vehicles or cars parked in yards.
But the meeting also appeared to materialize after 84-year-old Mary Edwards of Rosedale was allowed to speak at a Dec. 19 council forum about the $110 million bond issue approved for schools, parks and police. Edwards, who has become the face of Rosedale’s grievances in recent news and a WBHM radio feature, asked for a share of the money for Rosedale, shaming the council for its neglect of the area, and asking for a show of hands if anyone thought it was “fair.” Love spoke at a second forum Jan. 30 with a formal–and ambitious–wish list spelled out in the petition. The petition [ https://www.change.org/p/city-of-homewood-alabama-capital-improvements-for-rosedale-revitalization ] now has more than 200 signatures.
Love and Edwards appear to have lost patience with the progress of the RCDC.
“We want funding for a plan,” Love told the mayor Tuesday. “[City Council president] Bruce Limbaugh asked for a prioritized list. I am presenting it now, to allocate money for a plan,” he said. “Here and now.”
During the meeting Thames and Gwaltney outlined the arduous legal process that allows a government to force the repair of dilapidated property, calling it the “step of last resort.” Edwards later stood up to challenge city officials: “How long will it take for us to get what we asked for?” she said. “Stop putting us on the back burner.” The mayor, who bantered with Edwards about his personal integrity, quoting the Bible, said residents should report problems quickly and through the usual channels such as phone calls and emails–not petitions.
The audience seemed divided on whether abatement and nuisance enforcement were positive steps, however. One resident recalled having a car towed when she was an unemployed single mother taking care of her own mother. “Before you start doing things, you should knock on doors to see what’s going on inside the house,” she said. Another resident recounted having property “taken” through an abatement process, although city officials disputed the details. Housing abatement doesn’t ordinarily give the government title to private property, they said.
As described, the abatement process begins by identifying unsafe properties and contacting owners to make necessary repairs. If owners don’t respond, the property can be referred to an Abatement Board for action. At that point, the owner is given 60 days to comply before the matter is referred to the city council. Abatement can include repairs or demolition, with costs attached to the property in the form of a lien. Council decisions can be appealed to state circuit court.
Love was recently appointed by the council to the Ward 1 seat on the city’s Abatement Board.
“If this is what the community wants, then we have the power to do it,” councilman Thames said.