Looking back: Housing Authority may reverse itself

Published 9:11 am Friday, September 19, 2014

by Clyde Parker


Back in July, the Board of Directors of the City of Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority (the Authority) decided to recommend to the Franklin City Council that the first redevelopment project be an area in and around South Street (identified as area #3). However, according to various comments made here and there by City Council members, it appears that they (the City Council) prefer the Berkley area (identified as area #1) as the first project for redevelopment

The Berkley area is defined as that area that extends from the athletic field behind Franklin High School up to the National Guard Armory.

Since City Council members have let it be known that they favor “Berkley”, they hope the Authority will come around to their way of thinking. In the end, though, the Franklin City Council will make the final decision and usually (ideally) their decision will be in accordance with the recommendation from the Authority.

In the meantime, a very vocal group of residents of the South Street area has come forward with their concerns. They have a petition.

At a recent meeting of the Authority, open to the public, citizens appeared to express their concerns. Represented by Rev. S. F. Daly, the message being sent is that no concerted effort has been put forth by the City to establish and publicize, definitively, minimum standards for residential housing. At least, the affected people have not been apprised of standards.

“The citizens have stated that even though code enforcement would cost them money, they are still willing to have standards imposed upon them,” Daly said. “For this, they are willing in order to keep the Authority from tearing down their community. We want to retain the integrity and historic identity of our residences and neighborhood.”

“The citizens group is providing important grass roots input The Authority should pay attention to them,” Daly added.

The four-page, single spaced typed petition was read to the group by Rev. Daly: “We the citizens of Area 3 (South Street) believe in and want, as do all citizens of Franklin, not only better housing for the people in this instance but a better Franklin in every way. The percentage of ownership here is higher than the national average.”

The petition continues: “There is no overcrowding in our South Street area. And, with only 30 (13%) homes of a total of 224 listed as in poor condition and 194 (87%) listed as good or fair (largely needing painting) cannot be listed as a blighted area. A city is not antiquated just because it does not have a public housing project. Home ownership is the preferable American way of life.”

“A public housing project is desirable and justifiable only when the owners either cannot, financially, or will not maintain their homes and property up to standard housing conditions,” Daly interjected, as an aside, as he continued to read the petition.

“Many homes are maintained very well. Others are not. Before we destroy our entire neighborhood, let’s give code enforcement a chance. Right now, you will see very well maintained houses and yards right next door to run-down places. Many of the homes are owned by the resident and a good number of them are maintained exceptionally well, and some, of course, are not kept too well.”

“Other properties in the South Street area are rental units and, in many cases, the houses have out-of-town owners.”

Mrs. Martha Spencer, a Davis Street resident, said in an early part of the meeting when the petitioners appeared, “I think redevelopment should certainly get underway so the people can get out of the slums.”

In responding to the group’s concerns, Franklin City Manager Harold Atkinson said, “standards are being determined and people will be given a chance to bring their property in compliance with the codes.”

An editorial in The Tidewater News recently stated: “In Berkley, virtually all the houses are sub-standard. Code enforcement in that area by the City is nonexistent If mass redevelopment is going to take place in the City, that is the place for it to be. But let us not forget when people are displaced as a result of mass redevelopment, there must be a place for them to go. It is estimated that at least 150 public housing units will be needed to accommodate those who will be displaced by demolishing Berkley.”

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is cpjeep99@yahoo.com