Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
A devil’s deal saved the Day, but will haunt Roanoke until the city lives up to its end of the bargain. Reasonable people would argue the city already has.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
In 2005, Roanoke’s then-city manager and then-director of the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority struck a terrible bargain born out of desperation with the owner of 17 houses along the 400 block of Day Avenue. The houses had been converted into 70 apartments and had turned the once stately block into the city’s cesspool; drug dealers and prostitutes freely and openly plied their trades. Police were called at least once every day.
Just eight years later, it’s hard to remember how bad it was. Those houses have been gutted, renovated and are now in the hands of families that lovingly tend their homes and lawns.
And just as the blight had spread to neighboring blocks, the renovation contagion, too, has caught on, giving the avenue the rights to a respectable address.
To get there, though, the city struck a devil’s deal with Dana Walker, who owned those 17 houses. In exchange for allowing the city to purchase the houses at what he claims was a discount rate, Walker required the city to build 50 homes for poor people by the end of 2012.
It was an ill-conceived, improbable deal. Roanoke didn’t have the cash to build 50 houses, nor with its built-out neighborhoods does the city have enough developable spaces, especially in places that are not near existing low-income housing, as the agreement specified. Improbable turned impossible when the housing bubble popped and the Great Recession ensued.
By 2009, Roanoke seemed disinclined to honor the bargain. In November of that year, we slammed the city hard in an editorial for ignoring its obligation. Much, though, has changed since then.
The question raised now in the spring of 2013 is whether Roanoke has lived up to its commitment to provide more housing for those who can least afford it. Reasonable people would look at the evidence and conclude that while 50 new houses have not been built for poor people, the city has done far more than it has in the past to ensure people with low or no incomes have decent, safe and sanitary housing — three conditions that could not be said about all of Walker’s former units.
So far, the housing authority has built six units valued at $700,000 and plans this year and next to construct 11 more. In addition, to settle up with Walker, the city has offered to provide $200,000 each of the next three years to Habitat for Humanity, a concept that Walker suggested but now, according to reports, wants nothing to do with because he mistakenly believes the city would spend its block grant on this anyway.
Nor does Walker credit the authority with building 89 rental units or managing programs to help house homeless veterans and to keep families together by providing housing so that children aren’t placed in foster care simply because their parents have lost their home. Perhaps showing the greatest promise in keeping people in affordable housing is the city’s rapid rehousing program that works with families on the verge of becoming homeless, assisting more then 525 households in the last few years.
Just as Day Avenue underwent a dramatic makeover, so, too, has the city’s understanding and response to housing needs of people with few resources. Much has changed for the better since 2005. Roanoke is taking better care of its own, whether or not Walker will acknowledge it.
Weather JournalStorm track isn't very snowy for us