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Monday, July 29, 2019

Taking It To The Streets

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Affordable housing grant for Wilkinson Terrace in review

Technology is a game-changer for all kinds of businesses. It has revolutionized the way some work is done, as in the automotive industry. In politics, technology, specifically social media, has helped some elected officials take a modern approach to oldfashioned, grassroots communication with their constituents.

When a proposal to build new low-income housing units on Wilkinson Street in the Historic Highland Neighborhood went before the Metropolitan Planning Commission’s Zoning Board of Appeals, Shreveport City Council District B representative LeVette Fuller took to Facebook to inform people in her district and to gather feedback from the community. The results, she said, were better than she expected.

“There’s no amount of information that I can give you that is going to satisfy you as the public,” she said. “I want the information out there, even if it means I spend the day playing Whack-a-Mole on bad information. I think we’ve got that opportunity now with social media. I think that it’s a very interesting time for us.”

Bobby Collins, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Shreveport, said the housing authority has a $1.5 million grant for 15 affordable housing units at 1156 Wilkinson St. The grant comes through a neighborhood stabilization program.

The proposal went before the zoning board for parking and dimension variances on July 17. Before that meeting, on July 15, Fuller posted on the Highland Restoration Association’s Facebook page about the proposal, citing plans for a three-story structure and parking as two potential concerns for neighbors.

Fuller said a few community members attended that meeting to learn more about the project and express their concerns. At that meeting, zoning board member Alan Berry made a motion to defer a decision until next month’s meeting. Berry said he hopes to find consensus with community members in the neighborhood to come up with a better design that everyone feels better about before that Aug. 21 meeting.

“I felt like, based on the comments from citizens who were in attendance, there was not enough info out there for the people this affected,” Berry said. “The motion was made to approve, and it didn’t get a second. Rather than give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down, there was enough interest and enough at stake to have the people who are concerned on both sides to talk about it. That’s not uncommon for us to do with a project like this that has so many moving parts.”

Fuller said she shared that concern, and it was one of the reasons she took the discussion to Facebook.

“There’s a lot that’s worth fighting for, and I want my neighbors to be here with me supporting these things, to write and ask for more transparency, more information for things they are not sure about, so that we can all feel satisfied at the end of the day,” Fuller said.

Collins was at the July 17 meeting. He said he did speak with Fuller and others about “a few design changes, and we are happy to work with anybody on that.”

In a separate but related issue, Collins said that plans to demolish Wilkinson Terrace in that same area are moving closer to fruition. “That’s the oldest public housing in the city. It’s very obsolete. That’s the ultimate goal.”

One member of the community who joined in the Facebook conversation was Jeff Everson. He said he is familiar with the issues, having previously served as the district’s city council representative. He said he was glad to see this important issue discussed in such a public platform.

“Social is always a difficult medium,” Everson said. “It tends to glorify the active speaker. It can be a disjointed way for conversation to take place. What’s great about this scenario, you saw a lot of information being shared. It didn’t get disrespectful. There was no name-calling or anything. Ultimately, it was a very helpful thing. It got more people involved with valuable feedback.”


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