Posts by Author: Brianna Williams

Charlotte City Officials Consider New Bike Lanes

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton, file)

Charlotte city leaders are considering the addition of more bike lanes to uptown streets reports WCNC. City leaders hosted five public meetings to discuss the bike lanes on Tuesday, according to the television station.

Although the city is already debuting new bike lanes in the near future, officials are asking if even more should be proposed.

North Carolina is one of the most dangerous states for cyclists, according to the data from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Drivers are hitting over 840 bikers annually, and the Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) has records of 28 bicycle and car crashes within the last year and a half, according to WCNC.

WCNC reports that the proposed bike lanes will create a safe commute for cyclists to and from uptown.

“This could really change the landscape of how we do transportation in the city,” said Charlotte City Councilman Justin Harlow, according to the television station.

Charlotte is currently in the process of transitioning into a more bike friendly city, with a car-free city center, as recently reported by Next City.

Most bicycle crashes in Charlotte result in evident injuries, with a significant portion leading to disablement and death. The state has a 15 percent fatality rate of all traffic deaths, according to WCNC.

Data from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center shows severe injury and fatality rates for bike crashes fall around 9 percent for middle aged adults, the largest age demographic in Charlotte. Rates are about half as much for young adults and teens.

Earlier this year, CDOT tested out temporary bike lanes, which they now hope to make permanent.

 

Honolulu Moves Forward With its First Affordable Micro-Housing Complex

View from the top of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park. (Photo by Daniel Ramirez)

Plans for Hawaii’s first affordable “micro-housing” complex moved forward with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 26th, reports Hawaii News Now.

The ceremony was held by state officials, including Gov. David Ige and the Hawaii Housing Finance & Development Corporation.

The housing units, named Nohona Hale, will be constructed in Kaka’ako, a commercial district in Honolulu. Each unit will average approximately 300 square feet, and the $27-million project will produce a total of 110 units.

“These units are smaller,” said Gov. Ige, in a press release. “And [the development is] right on the transit line. This is exactly the kind of project that we need along the rail route.”

Rent is expected to range from $500 to $995 a month.

Together, Swinnerton Builders (a Bronx Pro Group) and EAH Housing (a non-profit) will partner for the construction and management of the project. The units will also be constructed on state land, according to a press release from the office of the governor.

The construction of Nohona Hale comes at a crucial time as tensions grow between communities, the state, and Hawaii’s homeless population. Affordable housing being constructed in Kaka’ako, in particular, is significant considering both its troubling past and the recent closing of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park partially due to homeless encampments, as Next City previously covered.

Hawaii continues to have the highest rate of homelessness per capita of any state in the United States, although rates have dropped for the second year in a row. The state attributes the decline to “increased coordination between service providers and government agencies, as well as increased funding for housing-focused services.”

Units such as Nohona Hale are one step closer to addressing the affordable housing crisis. Hawaii continues to consider utilizing public land for housing. “This project advances our commitment to creating more affordable housing and more walkable, livable communities at prices that our families can afford,” said Gov. Ige in the release.

Nohona Hale is expected to be completed in January of 2020.

 

Birmingham Announces Targeted Home Renovation Program

A vacant home along Kappa Street in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

The city of Birmingham, Ala., will begin investing in “blighted neighborhoods,” reports Birmingham Watch.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced his 100 homes in 100 days program last week. The program will spend over $1 million to renovate dilapidated homes, beginning as early as mid-August. Funds for the program come from the sale of two Birmingham properties, a parking deck and the site for a new data center, according to Birmingham Watch. City officials say the sales generated $1.6 million.

Birmingham is partnering with the local chapter of Neighborhood Housing Services to locate homes in need of repair, including occupied homes. Low-income residents and senior citizens who own homes are eligible for up to $10,000 in renovations for each home.

Property values, median income, and homeownership rates in Birmingham are all below the national average, while the poverty rate is more than twice the national average at 29.4 percent.

Neighborhood Housing Services is already working to identify homeowners who meet the criteria for the program and to secure contractors to do the renovations, said Kelleigh Gamble, chief executive officer of Neighborhood Housing Services, according to Birmingham Watch.

The 100 homes in 100 days project will focus on five neighborhoods in need. “Our plan is to bundle our work to transform entire blocks instead of renovating one home on a street, which would otherwise be surrounded by blight,” said Woodfin, according to the local outlet.

Additional development plans are to be expected in the future. “As additional economic development projects pay off, we will be deploying those resources as soon as they are identified and committed,” said Woodfin.

 

Montana Community Moves Forward with Plans for a Tiny House Development

A row of tiny homes behind a conventional house in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Plans for the construction of a low-cost tiny home community near a food bank in Missoula, Montana moved forward Thursday reports the Missoulian.

The plans for the community began over two years ago when Homeward, a local nonprofit focused on using “sustainable methods to provide safe, healthy homes,” purchased 10 tiny homes.

As Next City has seen, cities across the United States are exploring tiny homes, often as a strategy to address housing affordability crises.

The houses were to be originally used in the Bakken oil fields until a major economic downturn in the oil market, and are now held in Missoula’s wastewater treatment plant.

The board of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) concordantly approved up to $93,673 to reimburse Homeword for preparation of the site — owned by a community land trust — where the new tiny homes will be built.

“This project presents MRA with the opportunity to assist with the provision of six new, permanently affordable, owner-occupied housing units at a time when home ownership for low- and middle-income households is a major challenge in Missoula,” MRA director Ellen Buchanan told the board, according to the Missoulian.

Homeword’s housing development director Heather McMilin, said clean up costs are high because the site was previously a car lot and repair site. The reimbursement will cover water and sewer extensions, irrigation ditch modifications, curb and sidewalk improvements and professional services.

Homeword intends to put five 550-square-foot, two-bedroom homes and a single 450-square-foot, one-bedroom home on foundations on the site in addition to new facilities and revamping the community garden.

Originally, the two-bedroom home was to be sold at $100,000 and the single bedroom for $89,000, but the Missoulian reports that due to an increase in construction costs caused in part by President Donald Trump’s new tariffs, prices had to be increased.

“Everytime somebody tweets something out, prices go up,” said McMillan, according to the Missoulian. “In today’s market it’s damn near impossible to estimate construction costs. We are hoping to attract smaller contractors, but the cost of materials are just outrageous right now.”

Households earning up to 80 percent of Missoula’s median income — $56,400 for two people or $70,400 for four people — will be able to purchase the two-bedroom homes while an individual earning 100 percent of the median income will be able to purchase the single-bedroom home. McMilin told the Missoulian she believes many will still consider the homes a viable option due to the affordable housing crisis.

 

Instead of Shutting Down Teen’s Hot Dog Stand, Minneapolis Rallies Behind Him

Minneapolis City Hall. (Photo by Paul Wasneski)

In a time when black and Latino people have been harassed and even arrested for their small business ventures, such as the arrest of a 14-year-old black teenager arrested outside of the Philadelphia Zoo for allegedly selling water earlier this month, a permit approval for a teenager’s summer hotdog stand is welcome news.

According to KHOU11 news in Minneapolis, 13 year-old Jaequan Faulkner first opened Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs in 2016 with the help of his uncle. He reopened the stand this year to raise money to purchase new clothes for the upcoming school year. Although Faulkner had good intentions, his small vendor business was not legally permitted.

Logan Ebeling, a Minneapolis health inspector, told the TV station a complaint was filed against Faulkner’s hot dog stand.

Instead of shutting down Faulkner’s stand, the city rallied around him. His small business had received support after it was promoted by police officers with “Bike Cops for Kids,” on Facebook. Together, Minneapolis Health Department, the Minneapolis Promise Zone, and the Northside Economic Opportunity Network employees worked together and made sure the hot-dog stand met the permit standards, according to KHOU11.

“They worked with a couple groups in the area, [the Northside Economic Opportunity Network] I know was involved, Appetite for Change, trying to support Jaequan and what he’s doing. He’s a great kid,” Ebeling said.

According to Ebeling, Faulkner did need to make some changes to his stand, including a tent for overhead protection, a handwashing station and a thermometer for the cooked hot-dogs. The city provided the thermometer and the Health Department donated money for the required $87 permit.

“Surprisingly, I’m like, dang the city’s not the bad guys in this situation. They’re actually the ones who are helping me,” Faulkner told KHOU11. “It makes me feel kind of — not kind of — really proud that people know what I’m doing.”

Ann Fix, program manager for the Northside Food Business Incubator, told the station they’ve been working with Faulkner on business basics, financing, marketing, and pricing.

KHOU11 reports that Faulkner has a 10-day special event food permit and will be setting up his food stand at different locations around the city. He said he hopes to earn enough money for a food cart to continue business next Summer.

“So the next few weeks we’re just going to get him through this short-term food journey and then school starts and he’s very, very focused and excited for school to start. Then in the fall and winter we’ll start really strategizing and planning out to get his food cart,” said Fix.

Faulkner said his endeavors are “not about the money” but rather something he “enjoys doing.”

 

Historically Black Baltimore University Wants to Diversify Architecture

The Peale Center. (Photograph by R. Tom)

A new Morgan State University program, “Preservation in Practice,” aims to bring diversity to the architectural field, reports the Baltimore Sun.

The eight-week program, lead by Morgan State professor of architecture and historic preservation, Dale Green, recruited six black architecture students. Green argued the city of Baltimore does not reflect its rich and diverse history through its monuments and architecture. He cited the absence of a monument dedicated to Harriet Tubman, a Maryland native.

In its first summer, the “Preservation in Practice” program has been providing students hands-on experience in preservation. The students have visited historic sites in Baltimore and Wyoming, studied alongside architecture experts and even learned to lay bricks, the Sun reported. Most recently, the students worked at the Peale Center in downtown Baltimore, the oldest museum building in the United States.

The Peale Center reopened its cultural center in 2017 after closing in 1997 due to lack of funds. Student participants helped continue restoring the Center to its previous state through maintenance of its historic brick and mortar, and also pulling weeds, according to the Sun.

The program is a partnership with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation had the students work with its Hands-on Preservation Experience Crew (HOPE). Monica Rhodes, the director of HOPE told the Sun: “We started HOPE to engage a large, more diverse audience in architecture trades.”

As the newspaper also noted, only five percent of architecture students are black, and only 0.3 percent of licensed architects are black women.

Morgan State University is the first HBCU (historically black college or university) to introduce the program, and program partners hope to implement it at other HBCUs.

“Historic preservation is extremely important,” said Monique Robinson, 22, a Morgan State junior. “This experience has inspired me to go find out where our history is. A lot of our history is repressed and lost. It’s ignored.”

 

Boston City Council Considers Giving Non-Citizens Voting Rights

Boston City Hall. (Photo by Steve Garfield)

Boston City Council held its first hearing to consider giving non-citizens with legal status the right to vote in city elections on Tuesday, July 10.

WHDH 7 News covered the hearing. Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell called for the hearing and clarified it was only “a conversation, not a vote on an ordinance.”

Citing U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the official docket for the hearing notes that Massachusetts has one of the largest immigrant populations in the country, an estimated 1.1 million people or 16.5 percent of the state’s population, and the city of Boston itself has an estimated foreign-born population of 190,123, or 28.4 percent of the city’s population.

Boston has been a hub for immigrants and immigration since the 1820s, but the foreign-born population took a nosedive in the early 20th century, the docket says, due to “restrictive and discriminatory legislation.” After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 overhauled the US immigration system, once again an increasingly diverse population began immigrating to Boston.

At the Tuesday hearing, officials emphasized that they were exploring the extension of voting rights to non-citizens only for local elections, not state or federal, and only to non-citizens with legal status, including legal permanent residents, DACA recipients, those with Temporary Protected Status and visa holders.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, currently three states allow non-resident voting in municipal or town elections and ten additional states allow non-resident voting in certain special district elections. Non-citizen voting is currently only allowed in city or local district voting. No state has extended non-citizen voting to statewide elections.

Boston 25 News noted that one of the few cities that allows non-citizens to vote is Tacoma Park, Maryland. Not only are legal residents allowed to vote, but also undocumented residents, and they can also run for local office. There are only about 300 non-citizens in Tacoma Park compared to Boston, where the non-citizen population is estimated to be at 48,000.

Campbell said this hearing was another step toward making Boston “more inclusive.”

The official hearing docket notes that Boston immigrants collectively contribute an estimated $116 million in state and local taxes and generate $2.3 billion to the region’s gross product.

As stated in the docket: “Immigrants with legal status who are seeking a pathway to citizenship, are prohibited from voting by state law and thus limited in playing an active role in the civic life of the City of Boston; and the purpose of our local government including the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, is to ‘strengthen the ability of, diverse, cultural and linguistic communities to play an active role in the economic, civic, social and cultural life of the city of Boston,’ and to provide equitable access and opportunity for all residents.”

Campbell said the council is considering voting and other possibilities for civic engagement with non-citizens.

 

New Eatery Brings Affordable, Healthy Food to Richmond’s East End

The location for Soul n' Vinegar. (Credit: Soul n' Vinegar)

On June 30th, Soul n’ Vinegar, a self-described “neighborhood food shop” providing healthy and affordable options, opened its doors to the public in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, reports Richmond Magazine.

Owner Michelle Parrish started Soul n’ Vinegar in mid-2017 after being awarded a $20,000 grant from the Virginia office of LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). The grant program was created “to push for economic development in the East End, specifically the 25th Street corridor in Church Hill.” Launched in 2011, the grant program is a partnership with Bon Secours Richmond Health System.

The East End of Richmond is a designated ‘food desert,’ one of more than 200 areas battling fresh food scarcity in Virginia. Some 40 percent of Richmond’s population lives in a food desert, with convenient access only to corner stores that typically don’t sell fresh fruits and vegetables or other unprocessed foods, or low-fat milk. Studies have found higher rates of obesity and other health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults living in food deserts.

Across the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that approximately 23.5 million people live in food deserts, including 6.5 million children. Food deserts overwhelmingly affect low-income communities and communities of color. In designated food deserts, the median household income is at or below 80 percent of surrounding median incomes.

In October 2017, according to Richmond Magazine, Parrish signed a lease for a 572 square-foot brick studio apartment that would soon be converted into her first eatery. While the studio was under renovation, she launched a version of Soul n’ Vinegar in January 2018 and ran it as a successful local catering company that she continues today. Behind the scenes, Williams Rimmel — a friend and former coworker of Parrish — helps in the kitchen.

“If I have these skills and this opportunity, I might as well make something that’s affordable to a lot of people,” Parrish told Richmond Magazine. “I want black people to come in and say, ‘I feel comfortable, I know what these food things are,’ and for it to be approachable. It feels real and authentic in here.”

Salt n’ Vinegar’s menu changes weekly, with five to six entrees under $10, a $5 meal including a vegetarian option, and includes items such as salads, wraps, and bowls. Additionally, Parrish sells fresh pre-packaged fruits and vegetables, non-dairy milk and potatoes. She also has an application awaiting approval so she can accept EBT cards (for SNAP, previously known as food stamps) as payment for some items.

“[Soul N’ Vinegar is] a place for people that need a place to eat and they need food. It was intended for the people that live right here,” said Parrish. “Diverse food for diverse people.”

 

Atlanta BeltLine Growing with Construction of New Section

Atlanta BeltLine trail marker. (Photograph by Ted Thompson)

Construction on the next segment of the Atlanta BeltLine began this week, reports Curbed Atlanta.

The Eastside Trail construction will expand the popular path in Reynoldstown from Kirkwood Avenue to rapidly developing Memorial Drive, BeltLine officials said.

The BeltLine — a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, modern streetcar and parks — has had a tumultuous year, serving largely as a cautionary tale for other parks built along unused former rail lines and other infrastructure, from Philadelphia, Buffalo and St. Louis to Miami, Chicago and beyond.

Developers vowed to avoid displacement of residents from rising housing costs as construction and expansion of the BeltLine proceeded. Atlanta BeltLine Inc. promised 5,600 units of affordable housing by 2030, to be financed by a combination of bonds and a tax increment financing area pooling property taxes in a zone running along the BeltLine’s course. But a year ago, investigations found that only 785 of those units had been funded, and of those, 200 were still under construction. The investigation placed much of the blame for these delays on the agency’s actions.

“BeltLine Inc. kept units that it funded affordable for only a short time; decreased spending on affordable housing as the city entered its current housing crisis; and even passed up on millions of dollars of potential funds,” the report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia News Lab said.

In the wake of those allegations, Paul Morris, CEO of Atlanta Beltline Inc., stepped down in September 2017.

The BeltLine was hatched in a master’s thesis by Georgia Tech student and urban planner Ryan Gravel, in 1998. Gravel hoped to transform the often traffic-clogged city of Atlanta through a “sustainable redevelopment project,” to create affordable housing, pedestrian-friendly transit rails, jobs and more. In recent years, however, BeltLine plans veered from its original goals, leading Gravel and another prominent board member to resign from the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership board in 2016. At the time, both cited concerns about equity and inclusion in addition to other disagreements with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership — the private-sector organization responsible for BeltLine fundraising and more — relating to “its governance and priorities.”

Brian McGowan, formerly CEO of Invest Atlanta, the city’s quasi-public economic development agency, was named new BeltLine Inc. CEO in 2017. At the time, urban planner Gravel described the leadership shakeup as an “opportunity” and expressed hope that the BeltLine would shift back to its original vision.

Curbed reports the new BeltLine section now under construction will include a speed table where the trail currently ends, Kirkwood Avenue, and pedestrian upgrades at Memorial Drive, in addition to structural improvements to an existing bridge, access points in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as lighting and security cameras.

The trail will be inaccessible to the public until completed. Officials told Curbed they aim to have the trail open by early 2019.

 

Boulder City Council Votes to Fund Citywide Broadband Network

The Boulder Municipal Building. (Photograph by Ken Lund)

Boulder’s City Council voted unanimously to fund the construction of what will support a citywide broadband network for “better, cheaper internet”, Daily Camera reports.

The funding will come from the issuance of debt — a total of $15 million — and was met with high public support after a survey revealed 90 percent of respondents supported “city-owned and -operated internet” with similar numbers stating they would be “very or somewhat likely to purchase service from the city.”

The funding of this construction is crucial as a significant amount of residents, perhaps between 4 and 7 percent, are currently without internet service. Councilman Bob Yates said this statistic is “embarrassing,” the Daily Camera reported.

“The internet has become a fundamental need. Imagine if 4 to 7 percent of our community didn’t have water or electricity,” said Yates.

Many residents without internet service come from low-income households, per a map created by city council staff, the newspaper reported.

Although Boulder was previously named “one of the most affluent cities,” the city contains areas where 75 percent of the population fall below the poverty level. Part of the city’s broadband network plan is to provide services to underserved and low-income residents, which was also met with overwhelming approval, garnering support from 91 percent of survey respondents.

This disparity in internet access goes beyond income, as many of those without service are Latino. Although Boulder is a majority white city, Hispanics or Latinos are the next largest demographic, making up almost 14 percent of the population according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

At a city council hearing, the Daily Camera reported, Rossana Longo testified about lack of internet access in Boulder’s Latino community.

“I am one of those lucky Latinas who have access to internet,” Longo said. “For the last two years, I have been trying to create radio services for Spanish-speaking people. Again and again when I go to register them, they don’t have internet at home.”

The council has considered partnerships with existing commercial internet service providers or Boulder Housing Partners to provide lower rates which could provide revenue for the eventual total buildout, the Daily Camera also reported.

The council was provided with multiple options for funding “ ultimately voted to direct city staff to explore the issuance of certificates of participation to fund the buildout.” Under the terms reported, the city would pay $1.1 million annually over 20 years. The cost of the network buildout is estimated to be $140 million. Over 80 percent of survey respondents supported a sales tax to fund the construction but the council doubts if this support will translate into the ballots, according to the Daily Camera.

 



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