Op-EdOpinion

CALDWELL: A New Vision of Safety Starts with Dialogue and Collaboration

Gentrification is the hot buzzword that billionaire developers use for urban renewal. Essentially, they come into old dilapidated neighborhoods in the cities, level the communities to the ground, then transfer them into a moderate technological showplace, with all the bells and whistles. Their projects are joint partnerships with federal, state, local and large developers.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to gentrification, but many poor people will be displaced, and this is a reality of doing business now in America. This is taking place in all the major cities across the country, and the projects and partnerships will continue to grow and prosper. As more affluent people move back to the cities, property values increase, and occupancy rate increases.

Recently, Karen Parks, a reporter for WFTV-TV in Orlando, Florida, ran a piece titled “Everything’s out of whack: Parramore Oaks residents raise concerns about community safety.” Many community leaders were upset with the reporting, but it needed to be exposed, because there was shooting in the park near the complex. This excellent reporting challenged everyone in the community to take some action.

The Parramore area has been a persistent problem with crime, drugs, homelessness and prostitution. In 2007, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer pledged to revitalize the area and get the drug thugs off the corners. The initiative was called “Operation Delta,” and in 20 days the Orlando Police Department made 234 arrests, but the operation eventually did not stay in place.

There are other operations that were very successful in combating crime and illegal drug sales, but it appears eventually the criminals win.

On Oct. 29, 2019, Parramore Oaks Phase 1 was opened, with much fanfare, and 80% of the units affordable, and 20% market rate and subsidized. Invictus Development Corporation out of Tampa was chosen to build the development, and they have received the “golden brick award.” A portion of the units are designated for the homeless, and its president, Paula Rhodes, is a mission-based executive with a corporation that focuses on lower-income communities.

The first time you drive by the facility, it appears that you have left the community, and for a moment you are in a high-scale community. The complex is a quality project to be proud of, a mix of affordable housing that can change the thinking in the community.

Somewhere during the pandemic, there was a shutdown, a lack of communication with the tenants, no resident council/organization, and now the criminals are winning again. The gates are being vandalized, the alarm systems are consistently broken, elevators are being vandalized, and drugs are being sold out in the open.

The complex has been open less than two years and this is only the first phase. In order for the crime and vandalism to stop, there must be a collaborative effort of the tenants, Invictus Development, the Orlando Police Department, the city, and community leaders working in concert to make the complex safe and something everyone is proud of.

After the news story, everyone involved in this project has ideas about how to improve the conditions, but Rhodes shared with me some of her thoughts, frustrations and challenges in making the complex safe and a beautiful place to live.

The first thing she told me was that she is open to meeting and talking about concerns and prevention recommendations with the city, the police, community leaders and residents — and being transparent. Very few people have reached out to her, and her door was open to me. Rhodes also talked about a safety task force recommendation, and she was wondering what happened to the community resource officer from the Orlando Police Department. She also talked about a resident council working with the complex management, pastors and community leaders.

Gentrification does not have to displace the entire community, but dialogue and collaboration must be high on the list. A crime prevention operation needs to stay in place to change the face of the community. The residents must care about the complex, stop vandalism, feel safe, and be proud of their new home and beautiful property.

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