Andrew Martinez is a South End resident who opposes a Bridgeport Housing Authority plan for replacement housing in the neighborhood. He writes that good ideas can go bad. He also takes issue with the role of the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. His commentary follows:
Over the past eight years or so the City of Bridgeport has established a series of Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZ). NRZs are neighborhood groups consisting of residents and stakeholders who come together to address issues impacting the community such as blight, crime, or other quality of life issues. Stakeholders, in this case, can be individuals who work for a non-profit, a church, small or large business, or other entity that has some stake in the neighborhood.
Currently, NRZs exist in many parts of Bridgeport including Black Rock, the East Side, and the East End (to name a few). The NRZ concept is unique and interesting, because, in theory, it allows for grass-roots decision-making and planning. It allows for the single parent mother, the elderly woman, business owner, and religious leader, to sit at the table and discuss their neighborhood. Residents know their neighborhood best and understand the myriad quality of life issues impacting the community. Lastly, NRZs are supported by Connecticut tax dollars. The NRZ concept should be applauded and is working well in many communities in Bridgeport and statewide.
However, sometimes good ideas can go bad–and there is a good example in Bridgeport’s South End. In an October 5th 2013 Connecticut Post article the South End NRZ Chair Reverend McCluster states that the South End NRZ Board voted in support of the Bridgeport Housing Authority plan to build public housing in the South End. This housing development would be built in a FEMA Special Hazard Flood Area that has flooded significantly after hurricanes Sandy and Irene–one of the reasons this has been an important topic lately in the South End.
So here are some details that many people do not realize about this so-called “vote.”
– Two individuals who voted are not even on the South End NRZ Board.
– Another five people who voted have expired term limits.
– State law requires at least 51% of the Board consist of community residents and the South End NRZ is below this requirement.
– Individuals did not abstain from voting despite potential conflict of interest. For example, among some community stakeholders who voted, this housing development is in extremely close proximity to their “stake” whether it may be a non-profit, church or business. Therefore, the influx of 150 individuals brought forth by this development, by sheer numeric probability and proximity, will translate into consumers. This last point is not intended to generate conspiracy suspicions, but rather the point is such individuals would have needed to abstain from voting because objectivity in this case is very questionable.
Overall, these behaviors at a minimum reflect gross negligence and a blasé approach to protocol. At its worst, such patterns generate more serious suspicions among citizens. Regardless of the extreme, these practices are not ethical and are in fact illegal. Recently, the Chair was asked for the minutes of this meeting and was publicly asked why such voting irregularities have been permitted. An answer has still not been provided. Not only are the above actions unacceptable, but when complemented by silence, even after repeated public requests–are reprehensible. The reason it is reprehensible is this no longer becomes an isolated incident regarding an illegal vote, but now constitutes a series of deliberate patterns that reinforce this illegal vote.
One wonders–would this vote have been different if the majority of individuals on the Board were residents? Residents who know what it is like to have their home devastated by hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Residents who live paycheck to paycheck and would do anything to make their lives a little more predictable.
The stark rejection of protocol reflected when this vote was taken casts a dark shadow on Connecticut’s NRZ concept. It also detracts from the positive work generated by other NRZs in Bridgeport and statewide, as well as the efforts Bridgeport has made to attain a more positive image.
The City of Bridgeport’s South End community deserves better.