Task Force to Work On Neighborhood Issues

Once again local residents and city officials are attempting to find ways to make Roanoke neighborhoods better – specifically in the northwest and southeast quadrants of the city where substandard housing, poor sidewalk maintenance, litter and crime have helped keep some possible residents out of those areas and have kept property values down.

A Neighborhood Task Force made up of residents from various neighborhood groups held a first meeting recently, along with representatives from city departments like Code Enforcement.

Nicole Harris – also the newly elected president of the Southeast Action Forum – is vice chair of the Roanoke Neighborhood Advocates, a liaison group between City Council and various neighborhood groups. As for the task force, “The goal is to come together between neighborhoods that have expressed some exceptional frustrations with certain code violations, sidewalk issues, alleyways, things they’ve been trying to work through over the years that don’t seem to get the traction needed.”

The task force will include a “broad range” of city officials, police officers and neighborhood activists said Harris, targeting Southeast Roanoke (where she is now a homeowner) and northwest, because that is where the majority of complaints come from.

Local nonprofits like the Prevention Alliance, HUD and TAP are also in the mix as stakeholders. Harris said even the notion of legislation at the local and state level that can lead to better neighborhoods and quality of life is on the table. What residents can do themselves to make life better is in the mix as well.

The task force also wants to shine the light on past cooperative efforts that have made a positive impact said Harris, hopefully using those methods again in the future.  “There are a lot of negative perceptions but really there’s been positive change in the last few years. We want the opportunity to show that as well.”

Showing people the potential in Southeast and Northwest – where perhaps those looking for affordable housing to own could relocate, is “the ultimate goal. The housing stock here [in southeast] is pretty incredible. It’s just about making those changes and [creating] a positive impression about the good people that live here and what we can do if we all work together. We’re ready to change those perceptions.” Some may be able to purchase an older house at well below the standard market value, put some work into it and “live there forever,” noted Harris.

The plan after the recent task force kickoff meeting was to form subcommittees and tackle specific issues head on. Blighted properties and code violations are already at the top of the list, said Harris. She moved to southeast in 2008 and now owns a house that was built in 1900. A Facebook page called The History of Southeast chronicles some of the legacy of the area, which became a bedroom community for many that worked for the Norfolk & Western Railroad. “It’s really neat to dig into the history of where you live.”

Now Harris, the Southeast Action Forum, Roanoke Neighborhood Advocates and the new task force are hoping more will find Southeast and Northwest Roanoke a place they want to call home – after some of the long time nagging issues are finally addressed.

Gene Marrano