City Councilwoman Maxine Harris is pulling no punches about the current condition of her district, saying she and others live in fear due to the plentiful problems — from absentee landlords to drug and criminal activity — that permeate District 5 and make it “the worst district in the city of Clinton.”
Harris’ blunt comments, made at the Council meeting earlier this week, followed a report by city intern Kimberly Moore, who presented the results of a survey of residents, crime data and policy recommendations for District 5, as part of a comprehensive study she conducted this summer.
“My overall objective was to gather the perspectives and opinions of District 5 residents on issues concerning their residential area in hopes of formulating policies for developing the community,” said Moore.
The survey was mailed to residents, and 83 people responded to a handful of open-ended questions. The survey age range was 17 to 78 years old, the vast majority of which were African American.
Among the questions posed in Moore’s survey, residents were asked about the crime rate, police patrols, relationships to landlords, their feelings about the city and what they felt was most needed in District 5.
The majority of survey respondents — 55 percent — said they felt the crime rate was high. An even higher contingent — 62 percent — thought favorably of police patrols, while most of them also expressed the desire for more patrolling, Moore said.
After looking at data and police reports, Moore said “substantial clustering” of police calls were found in the Dogwood area and McKoy Street. Those calls could range from building checks and locked cars to criminal activity, and Moore did note that the percentage of police calls that were related to criminal activity were higher than other city districts, while traffic stops accounted for a lower percentage in District 5.
Also in the survey, 36 percent of those surveyed said they had no relationship with their landlord, a sizable number considering 44 percent of responders were homeowners and had no landlord. Nineteen percent said they had a good relationship with their landlord.
Asked how they felt the city responded to their needs, 58 percent of District 5 respondents said “OK or fair” and 32 percent said not good, with 10 percent having no response, Moore said.
Among the biggest needs, 23 percent of surveyed residents said more educational-based community programs should be put in place in the district. That was followed by recreational activities, increased patrolling and code enforcement, notably in regard to nuisance lots and vacant homes. Other needs listed were businesses, transportation, sidewalks and better homes., as well as the need to curb drug problems.
“One person said the community just needs attention,” Moore said. “To help with the most popular issue of providing community programs I would like to recommend partnering with several organizations to bring these programs to the Sampson Center.”
She said the Partnership for Children could provide parenting skills, Clinton City Schools could offer PSAT and SAT preparedness and Sampson Community College could hold resume writing, interview skills and enrichment classes.
Mainly, Moore said, the resounding concern was to reduce criminal activity and drug problems, while getting children off the street.
Harris said the district needed work, and made no bones about the amount of work that needed to be done.
“In my opinion, District 5 is the worst district in the city of Clinton. It is grossly neglected,” said Harris. “A lot needs to be done over there, because people will treat things according to the way they’re presented. I don’t like to sound negative, but I have almost given up fighting, because when landlords leave property they don’t care what they do.”
She said many do not feel safe leaving their homes.
“It’s a shame for me and for the citizens over there who are trying to do the right thing, that we don’t feel secure unless we have a monitoring service,” said Harris. “I really don’t feel but so safe over there … because people walk all night. It’s just a major problem. This area needs a lot of attention. Sampson Center has done a good job. I have to salute Tim (Boykin, Sampson Center director) and the Recreation Department for what they’ve done for a lot of the kids. But urban renewal needs to come in there bad.”
In recent years, a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant saw the Sampson Center refurbished. Problem properties have also been purchased so they could be razed and sold to low-to-middle income families, or otherwise revitalized.
That endeavor began in earnest four summers ago, in June 2008, when the City Council was approached by a bank about the city potentially purchasing four foreclosed properties on Barden and Williams streets. Council approved forking over $100,000 for the properties a couple months later, noting they could be used toward continued rehabilitation efforts around the burgeoning Sampson Center.
In the months to follow, the Council would again authorize the purchase of multiple properties on the 100 block of West Lee Street as well as on the 700 block of Williams Street. That effort has continued since, with dilapidated structures on Barden and Lee streets, as well as those in the adjacent areas in District 5, being condemned and demolished.
The city, in conjunction with Sampson Community College, worked to put new single-family homes on the Williams and West Lee properties. The original Barden Street site was announced last year as the site of a community garden project.
Harris said she and city manager John Connet also worked at one time on attempting to find absentee landlords. Those efforts needed to be renewed and the District 5 Committee reorganized, she said.
“No area in the city needs to have anywhere that a person doesn’t feel safe,” said Harris. “They walk all night, I know that the drug rate is higher over there. It’s just something that we need to sit down and focus on trying to make it better, because there are a lot of good citizens over there. We need to do something for District 5, because it is grossly neglected.”
Mayor Lew Starling asked about the number of “sub-par houses” that have been razed by the city in recent years. City staff noted nearly a dozen.
Harris said efforts should continue.
“I suggest we get back together and reestablish the committee that we had in District 5, and target certain things we need to accomplish by a certain time,” said Harris. “It’s not going to go up, it’s going to continue to go down. I think we can reestablish that, because no place should be like that. It’s just bad. There are no sidewalks. I know (revitalization) takes time, but it’s something we need to work toward, because nobody should have to live in fear and not comfortable about where you live.”
Several District 5 residents shared concerns at the meeting.
“I was one of those 83 respondents,” said Barbara Faison. “I am very grateful (Moore) was able to do what she did for our area. Some of the concerns that she noted I have noted in my area also. I don’t want this to get on the back-burner. I’d appreciate if you would keep this on the forefront and get our committee activated again, because there are some other issues in our area we need to address.”
She and others cited loud music, shootings, walking at all hours, vehicles traveling at high rates of speed and drug issues they say permeate the district.
“I don’t want to be afraid to come out of my house at night,” said Faison. “I do like to go out at night sometimes, and I’d like to be able to go out and come back in and feel safe.”
Harris said she would get together with those who raised concerns at the meeting, and they would set a date to discuss the reformation of the District 5 Committee.
“Everybody on the Council is very concerned,” said Starling. “We’ve done a lot, but there’s a lot to be done.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.