Community leaders talk restoring equity in South Bend neighborhoods

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Community leaders are pulling up seats at the table to continue the discussion on fair and affordable housing in South Bend.

“We’re moving forward in the frame of mind of equity and we’re making sure everyone has a seat at the table,” said Common Councilperson, Regina Williams-Preston.

Thursday, the Far Northwest Neighborhood Association and Indivisible Indiana held an open discussion at the St. Joseph County Public Library, on what the city can do to restore equity in its forgotten neighborhoods.

“Even if it’s ugly, it might be that ugly truth, but this is an opportunity for us to say, ‘ok, yes this is happening all over the country, but it doesn’t have to happen here in South Bend,’” said Preston.

Many on the panel say they’re reminded of an ugly truth every time they head west.

They see seemingly forgotten neighborhoods just minutes away from the many investments devoted to downtown.

 “We have to talk about what’s going on,” said Preston. “Is it really benefitting the taxpayers, the residents of South Bend, and if not, what can we do differently?”

 That question was a common one asked during the event.

Quite a few people who filled the room say they would like to see the city turn its attention from building up downtown and turn it to revitalizing under-served communities.

“I think we’ve ignored low-income housing, and there’s a desperate need for it and I think that we as a community need to first recognize the need and the inequity for individuals struggling, trying to make it on their own,” said Nancy King, a community volunteer.

Many felt these community concerns were ignored a few years ago when the city addressed vacant and abandoned homes.

The program addressed more than 1,100 homes back in 2015.

Back then, 427 houses were repaired and 569 houses were demolished.

That aggressive approach to handling the city’s problem with blight didn’t sit well with some/

Some activists saw issues in its aftermath with shortened time frames for repairing code violations, unfair penalties, and costly demolition bills footed to home owners.

These concerns were expressed to the mayor, who happened to be in attendance.

His presence was encouraging to the panel.

“When we can kind of get together like this forum tonight without shame, without blame, but with a shared vision and a shared goal of equity, then we can come to some win-wins,” said Preston.

The mayor has included in the budget about $1.8 million in housing initiatives.

$300,000 will go to rehabbing homes and $500,000 will go to addressing other vacant and abandoned houses.

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