OUR OPINION: Appropriate assistance in neighborhood effect

By NEMS Daily Journal

The realization that neighborhood decline won’t be reversed without concerted action began to catch on in Tupelo in the mid-1990s. Scattered organized neighborhood efforts and private sector initiatives produced modest success in turning around a few areas where housing had deteriorated, blight was spreading and crime had increased.
But those initiatives didn’t catch on in a big way around town. And beyond encouraging neighborhood support groups, city government itself never became directly involved – with a plan – until the past few months.
Helping to return neighborhoods to places where housing is well kept, property values are stable and families can feel safe is an appropriate function of city government. A city that lets its neighborhoods decline and loses its middle-class tax base is a city without much of a future.
Most of the time, reversal of neighborhood decline requires demolition or extensive rehabbing of deteriorated structures. That’s the case in Tupelo’s recently launched redevelopment effort in the West Jackson Street area. The city purchased an apartment building at the corner of West Jackson Street and Clayton Avenue for demolition, the first step in a plan to renew the area.
Moral questions accompany such pragmatic decisions, chief among them: What about the people who live there? The city had no legal obligation to the apartment tenants, but morally it couldn’t simply put them out on the street with no help in finding an affordable place to live.
Commendably, city officials worked with all six families in the apartments to find better and, in most cases, less expensive places to live. One family with children who wished to remain in the same school district had its wishes accommodated.
Meanwhile, the city has brought interested parties for an initial meeting to generate ideas for the area. The broad goal is to develop the neighborhood into an attractive place for middle-class families to buy homes that fit with the architectural style of nearby neighborhoods, including the Gravlee area where the city earlier leveled a vacant apartment building and is creating a park.
There will no doubt be other structures demolished in this effort. The city has established a pattern to follow in ensuring that no one is displaced without somewhere affordable, and preferably better, to go.