BRUNSWICK — A downtown neighborhood group is questioning whether it wants to participate in a $10,000 planning and improvement grant because of concerns doing so may contribute to growth of the area’s transitory population.
The Community Planning Grant, part of the Community Development Block Grant program, was awarded to the town in December. It was given to create a strategic plan for the so-called NorthWest neighborhood for street and infrastructure improvements, traffic flow and eventually a home improvement program.
According to Amanda Similien of the town’s Economic and Community Development office, the study would review sidewalk and park upgrades, as well as traffic remediation on Cushing Street. Eventually, she said, the study could be used to obtain other CDBG funds for a home improvement program.
But one of the grant’s chief stakeholders, the NorthWest Brunswick Neighborhood Association, is debating if a CPG requirement would hinder the association’s efforts to curb the influx of transient residents.
Vicky Marr, association president, was initially reluctant to discuss
the group’s reservations, she said, because it’s a “sensitive topic.” She said the association’s eight-member board would decide CPG participation in a Feb. 4 meeting.
The association’s concern, she said, centers on a requirement that 51 percent of homes qualifying for the home improvement program be occupied by low- to moderate-income residents. Marr said that some members want assurances that qualifying families have lived in their homes for at least five years.
Marr, who said she was trying to balance the benefits of the study
with members’ concerns, said the association’s goal is to encourage “a diverse
socio-economic community with as much owner-occupied housing as possible”
to avoid an overly “transient neighborhood.”
The NorthWest neighborhood is home to Tedford Housing, a homeless
shelter, as well as many rental units and subsidized housing. Marr
cited figures from the Brunswick Housing Authority – another
stakeholder in the CPG grant – showing 78 percent of the neighborhood’s
housing as renter occupied. Thirty-seven percent of the rental units are subsidized.
In comparison, Marr said, the town has an overall rental rate of 36 percent.
Marr said many of the rental buildings are owned by absentee landlords.
In the past, she said, some landlords turned a blind eye to rowdy
tenant behavior, drug use and substandard housing.
For that reason, Marr said, some association members want assurances that
future home improvement funds go to residents with a stake in the neighborhood.
“Exactly what jurisdiction would we have over the home improvement
program?” Marr asked. “We have a lot of issues. Our residents are
observant to drug issues, noise issues, trash issues. … All these of
things we’ve had to deal with because of absentee landlords.”
Marr rejected claims that the association wants to gentrify the neighborhood. She said the problem is mainly absentee landlords and their tenants’ disregard for neighbors.
“We’re not against low-income residents,” Marr said. “Our primary concern is that we’re going to attract people who want to invest in the property, but don’t want to live here.”
“If monies are available to rejuvenate some of these properties, it would be helpful if the people receiving it had a vested interest in preserving the character of the neighborhood,” she added.
Marr said the association was formed in 1998 in part because neighbors were frustrated with crime and codes violations. Its formation also coincided with another proposed homeless shelter, which the association successfully opposed.
The CDBG program was created in 1974. Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, CDBG was enacted to combat poverty and urban blight.
Marr said the NorthWest Brunswick Neighborhood Association’s Feb. 4 board meeting is not open to the public. She said meetings are private so board members “can freely deliberate.”