Notes from town hall meeting with Near East Side residents and PACT officials part 1
About 350 people gathered in the gymnasium of Trinity Baptist Church on St. Clair Avenue for a town hall meeting with officials from PACT, an acronym which stands for Partners Achieving Community Transformation. An elderly man named William Potter asked the speakers why Black homeowners in the community should have any faith in partnership with the Ohio State University when it has made little progress in the enrollment of Black students.

An official with OSU who was present said the university leads the Big Ten in enrollment of Black students. He said OSU's numbers on that front look better when we include the regional campuses.

When Potter expressed his distrust of OSU officials a second time in the form of a statement instead of a question, he drew applause, and a low rumble of murmurs.

Audience member Anthony T. Hodge used the town hall Q & A to call for the return of public access TV.

Audience member Lidia Wiggins, a resident of Poindexter Village said she supports PACT in the Near East Side.

As she spoke, she appeared to be looking toward the front row where people working with PACT were seated, most of whom, like herself and other members of the audience, were African-American. "Come to Poindexter to work with us. Don't just come to these meetings and then drive home in your Lexus. I work in the relocation office. I want to let you know that the Near East Side is not all bad."

After Wiggins spoke, a young African-American woman pressed PACT officials for more information about a plan for the Near East Side. She spoke briefly with irritation in her voice.

Lee responded by saying, "the planning process starts now."

Bryan Brown who works with CMHA responded by saying the plan involves a series of steps occurring in the next 8 months: relocating Poindexter Village residents; demolishing the buildings; making the site ready for re-development; and planning with current Near East Side residents about what they'd like to see.

"By then, we expect to have the plan you're looking for," Brown said in response to her question.

Rita Smith asked PACT officials about using vacant housing in the Near East Side, instead of relocating Poindexter Village residents to outlying areas. Smith suggested this would cost less money. State Senator Charleta Tavares responded by saying land bank projects are underway.

Last month 10TV reported Mayor Coleman announced during the State of the City address a Mow-to-Own program which he said will come out in greater detail in about a year.

One resident asked about what is being done for Poindexter Village residents who don't meet eligibility standards for getting assistance as they relocate. A CMHA official responded by saying, "there is a process for those who fall thru the cracks," while repeating the idea that renovating Poindexter Village would not be feasible given the high costs, estimated to be about $60 million.

Notes of town hall meeting with Near East Side residents and PACT officials part 2

One Near East Side resident whose name sounded like "Alia Robins" as moderator Charleta Tavares announced it, said people in the neighborhood should get jobs related to revitalization projects.

As a former resident of Cincinnati's Over the Rhine neighborhood during its revitalization, she said she was saddened when out-of-state workers got the jobs. Many members of the audience applauded as she pressed officials to say whether they have or will set a minimum percentage as a requirement for hiring people in the neighborhood to do jobs related to development projects.

"That's a good question, but we don't have an answer," said PACT Advisory Chair, Fred Ransier. "We have to look at why people aren't getting those jobs, and what has to be done to ensure they have the skills to do those jobs."

After Robins repeated her question about whether PACT officials would commit to a minimum percentage, James Ervin of the CMHA Board of Commissioners responded by saying, "We have to reach out to minority contractors and vendors. We're doing everything within our power and within the bounds of the law to give preference to local businesses."

Also in response to her question, Bryan Brown, Senior VP for Business Development, said PACT has put in its contracts incentives for working with minority-owned businesses.

Sam Argawal, an activist who's been involved with opposing the demolition of Poindexter Village said PACT has not taken into account the rich African American history of the area. She said the area's Blackberry Patch was an important spot for the African-American struggle for civil rights. Argawal said PACT officials have paid inadequate attention to the OSU African American and African Studies Community Extension Center on Mount Vernon Avenue.

Argawal asked PACT officials to account for how well they are acting in accordance with the Fair Housing Act. She said the act requires planners and developers to ensure that their projects don't end up re-segregating communities.

"Has CMHA followed the fair housing process? Has anyone done a racial analysis of what's happening as you force residents to relocate? 600 people have been moved out. Where's the paper trail so the public can see if this is re-segregating communities? Relief should be provided to those who've not been treated according to the Fair Housing Act."

Of all the public comments, Argawal's drew the longest and loudest applause. Afterwards, among the crowd at various places in the gymnasium of Trinity Baptist Church, middle-aged Black men and women, some in business suits and some dressed causally, leaned over to shake hands with the young petite Indian-American Argawal.

Brown responded to Argawal by saying, "The answer to most of your questions is yes...We've been communicating with our municipal partners. We have 40 zip codes in Columbus. Part of HUD's priority for assisted housing is that it not be concentrated in pockets of poverty and minority areas. This ensures equal access to jobs, housing, and transportation. HUD has actually called us to see how we've been so successful. I'd also remind you that when it comes to paper trails, our residents have a right to privacy. That's why the relocation data we have given so far uses zip codes."

Brown's response to Argawal got some applause, though it was comparatively small. PACT Executive Director Dawn Tyler Lee said, in response to Argawal, that the OSU African American and African Studies Community Extension Center was included in the 'launch' event for the project. Lee said there is a video about it "on the site." But I haven't found it on on the PACT site or the site for the center

In a vein similar to the points and questions from Argwal, a person who moderator Tavares announced as Professor Newsom said, "We keep hearing a lot of talk about 'mixed income communities.' If that's the goal, is there a model? We hear words like 'revitalization.' But when these kinds of things happen, places become out-of-reach for low-income people. Some of us here might not want to hear the word, but it's called gentrification. So, what's being done to make sure that what you're doing to Poindexter Village and the Near East Side doesn't displace people and erase our heritage?"

In response to Newsom, Ervin of CMHA said, "I understand what's happened in Chicago, LA, and other cities where traditional African-American communities no longer exist. But we're doing all we can to prevent this from happening in Columbus." This drew a small amount of applause and some poker-faced looks from the crowd. Tavares said land trusts are part of the solution.

Tavares then she told members of the audience to ask questions and not give "long orations." All due respect to her, but it was odd she said that, given how some of the PACT officials spoke at great length as the audience sat patiently. The whole two hours should have been devoted to answering questions from the public, as far as I'm concerned. Members of the community can do without the usual death-by-lecturing some officials seem prone to subject us to. What do you think, more interaction between the hoi polloi and those in power and less speeches where they audience sits passively ?

I also didn't like how Tavares instructed the audience to not point out problems unless we had solutions to offer, as part of the rules for the town hall meeting. Officials should be willing to hear from the community about problems, even if the messenger or no one else for that matter, has a solution.

Andre Frazier suggested to PACT officials that bricks of the buildings of Poindexter Village be given to people in the neighborhood.

"We have a lot of young Black men who need something to do. We can use those bricks to make patios and porches. It's not that hard. Those bricks are something we can touch as part of the history of our community. If we have some of the bricks, we have a piece of our history. And it recycles the bricks."

Frazier's remark got some applause. But Ervin said, "Typically building materials from a demolition are rendered over to the general contractor."

A person whose name I hope I'm not misspelling, Baba Ashongo, said, "PACT is not giving indigenous people here anything in return for the land. I saw the same thing happen in Boston." Looking briefly around the church gymnasium, he said, "I suggest the affluent African-Americans here move back to the historically Black communities. We have German Village, Italian Village, Hungarian Village. Let's have an African Village."

Another person from the audience told PACT officials she is concerned that stricter codes for the upkeep of houses in the Near East Side will lead to some current residents not being able to afford to stay in their homes.

Allie, a short curly haired blonde with United Commercial Food Workers (UCFW)--- I'm not sure how to spell her last name but I know what she does for a living---asked officials if they would commit to a community benefit agreement (CBA).

Officials at the town hall meeting took that and a few other questions all together. They didn't give their opinion about a CBA during the event. But Tavares and others said they would respond in writing to the questions they didn't answer last night.

Deb Steele with Columbus Jobs with Justice said a CBA related to PACT would involve a local hiring provision and a career ladder for OSU employees.

"For example, someone working as a janitor should have a way to get training to work as a phlebotomist."

She said development in the Near East Side shouldn't follow the pattern of South Campus Gateway where few people from nearby communities were hired for construction and renovation work, and where national chains displaced local businesses.

As an example of what she's talking about, Steele refers us to the CBA a group called Pittsburgh United achieved