Raleigh may be exploding in some areas in terms of high-rise apartments with fine eateries nearby and condominiums in the mid-six figures and higher, but one doesn’t have to venture far from downtown to see areas long blighted and neglected. Reflecting a renewed energy to address problems in those areas with more than study and conversation, the city will put about $11 million a year in federal and local money toward revitalizing neighborhoods east of downtown.
This is not just about enlightenment or about the need of a prosperous city to do more for all citizens, as so many seem to be doing very well indeed. It’s smart. And so is the goal, in this revitalization effort, of constructing and renovating not just lower-cost affordable housing but including with those types of places, rental units mostly, mixed-income housing. That brings neighborhoods together – and holds them together.
Larry Jarvis, the city’s director of the Housing and Neighborhoods department, has published his first long-term strategy, and it’s a five-year plan with good thinking and good planning behind it. One of the priorities is better housing – meaning affordable, sound housing – for lower-income and homeless people and also those with disabilities.
It has been a hard road to this point. The city has not ignored the lack of housing in the eastern part of the city, but there have been myriad plans discussed and then action in some specific areas. This plan is designed to look at the entire area and create an overall strategy.
Octavia Rainey, a long-time activist for the cause of Southeast Raleigh, thinks that despite public meetings and hearings, the city needs to engage Citizens Advisory Councils from the area and others in the community. Certainly she brings to her argument a lot of credibility as a tireless advocate, and she has the ear of city officials.
But the city has indeed offered residents a chance for input, and city officials can’t stop and start based on the wishes of CACs. There comes a time when the city, through the council and staff, has to move ahead to get something done, and not everyone is going to like every aspect of every project.
This plan, however, seems practical and visionary, which isn’t an easy combination. The city owns almost all of an eight-block area south of Oakwood Avenue, and it needs to get moving to study the real estate market, which Jarvis plans. Then, to answer a need for housing, the city can move ahead with plans for the College Park and South Park neighborhoods.
Starting is important, because the type of development the city is talking about, with different types of housing, is going to take time to plan, build and coordinate within neighborhoods. Long-term change isn’t going to happen with isolated projects here and there. Everything needs to knit together to work.
And to make that happen, the city is going to have to do more than just build apartments or houses. For example, the city will shortly begin to replace utility pipelines near Raleigh Boulevard. It will have to improve such infrastructure elsewhere in order to make more substantial development practical. It does no good to have new construction with inadequate services all around, over and under it.
Jarvis anticipates his plan will exceed the initial goals of several hundred new rental units and homes over the next five years.
Raleigh has seen a frenetic pace in the development of fashionable Glenwood South and other downtown neighborhoods geared toward “young professionals,” and developers see in that age group a tremendous opportunity for profit. The motivation for what the city is planning east of downtown is different, but just as important: to improve the lives of some of the city’s disadvantaged citizens and thus improve the city itself.