The Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center (SQACC) played host to a meeting between coalition members and the national Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), which has chosen Toledo for a series of site visits. Those visits were conducted last week.
The CSSP is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group administering a federal Dept. of Justice effort established last year called the Building Neighborhood Capacity program, which is designed to give residents a voice in rebuilding and rejuvenating their community. 30 communities nationwide were invited to apply for competitive grants, including Toledo and Cincinnati.
The trip to the Glass City signals the possibility one or two neighborhoods may receive a $75,000 grant from the nonprofit agency, according to Lourdes Santiago, director of Toledo’s Department of Neighborhoods.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) chose the four Toledo neighborhoods in collaboration with a number of local agencies, including the Toledo Community Foundation, United Way of Greater Toledo, the Port Authority, and the city’s Department of Neighborhoods. Any grant award may need to be accompanied by a local fund match.
“We selected four neighborhoods based on what the Center for the Study of Social Policy was looking for and we gathered information on those neighborhoods from their residents and leaders,” said Ms. Santiago. “They received proposals from all across the nation and decided to visit Toledo.”
The four neighborhoods include the Cherry St. Legacy Corridor, Uptown Toledo, the Overland District (near the old Jeep plant site), and the Broadway Corridor Coalition.
“There were several meetings leading up to the selection of the four neighborhoods,” said Ms. Santiago. “Then we met with the neighborhood group leaders and had them prepare their stories.”
The Broadway Corridor Coalition, a network of social service and non-profit agencies located in the Old South End, made the case for funding on behalf of the neighborhood. The coalition is comprised of SQACC, Adelante, Inc., Western Ave. Ministries, and others.
“I felt we had a strong presentation,” said Joe Balderas, SQACC executive director. “We talked about hope and the blight.”
“I think they will choose two,” predicted Ms. Santiago. “But it is possible they don’t choose any. But we may be lucky enough based on the presentations these four groups made to the visitors. We should hear within a month if any of the four groups have been selected.”
Building capacity means continuing to involve residents of a neighborhood in what needs to happen to enhance or improve that neighborhood, in order to make it a more livable neighborhood.
“It must be resident-driven,” said Ms. Santiago.
The director of the neighborhoods department stated the Broadway Corridor Coalition is trying to fill a leadership gap in the Old South End, because there is no longer any sort of community development corporation or other organization whose mission would be to encourage business growth, deal with housing issues, and keep the neighborhood clean, safe, and crime-free. Ms. Santiago stated the other three neighborhoods are going through similar situations.
The Building Neighborhood Capacity program is part of a broader federal effort to assist local communities in developing and obtaining the tools they need to revitalize distressed neighborhoods that struggle with issues such as crime, poor health, struggling schools, inadequate housing and access to employment. The idea is help those distressed neighborhoods transform themselves into neighborhoods of opportunity– safe places that provide the environments and resources children, youth and adults need to maximize their life outcomes.
The $75,000 grant could be used to hire a neighborhood organizer or some other paid staff member to engage the neighborhood’s residents and business owners, advocate on their behalf, and ensure the Old South End continues to develop into a vibrant area.
The SQACC director admitted he got a bit passionate as he concluded his part of the presentation to the visiting agency. But it added a bit of realism to the whole process.
“The only bad thing about this is when outside resources are presented to this area, you get the community’s hopes up,” said Balderas. “Either you stay away or nothing happens. I’ve been to so many meetings where they want us to do this or do that, and then nothing happens. So people are getting discouraged. It’s sometimes hard to get people motivated or interested because they’ve heard the same story before.”
The neighborhood leader emphasized that Old South End residents now are a bit hardened to the promise of assistance from outside groups. He stated they feel left out and forgotten, as the Broadway Corridor continues to fall into the decline associated with abandoned buildings and vacant homes.
“This community or this part of town should have just as much right to getting the good things as Uptown or the West side,” Balderas said. “We deserve the same things.”
The federal Dept. of Justice chose the Center for the Study of Social Policy to assist to-be-selected neighborhoods in generating the capacity to undertake development of comprehensive neighborhood revitalization plans. The center also will establish a web-based resource center to provide guidance and resource materials that any community can access. The resource center will be the repository for a collection of tools, literature and experience regarding neighborhood capacity building.
The SQACC director admitted a lot could be done to help the neighborhood with such a grant. He mentioned, among other things, demolishing vacant structures, providing a better tutoring program to solve youth education issues, or even continuing to brighten up Broadway and build on the recent art mural project.
“Why would the students invest all that time and effort on a place that’s going downhill?” Balderas questioned. “You want people to see it. It lifts up the morale, the spirits.
Balderas gave the example of a good restaurant that “doesn’t have to be Mexican” but “could be a good hamburger joint” to draw more people to the neighborhood. He recalled the crowds who used to come to Jalisco when it was still open.
“We want to revitalize the area. I don’t think we’ll return it back to its glory days, but make it start,” said Balderas. “Open a shop here, a restaurant there and people start coming in. We have such a stigma that I think people picture folks running down the street with guns and machetes and yelling. We’re not.”
The SQACC hopes the grant can help bolster the Old South End’s image in people’s minds, which could then lead to reinvestment in the Broadway Corridor. But the one thing Balderas admitted residents need is hope—the hope that something actually will happen this time.
“The south end needs a shot in the arm,” he said. “How long can you keep talking and talking about revitalizing the area? It’s time to get dirty. Put the gloves on, get dirty, and let’s start knocking the houses down. Let’s start revitalizing these properties.”