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The original item was published from 1/13/2023 1:09:00 PM to 7/18/2023 12:00:02 AM.

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Posted on: January 17, 2023

[ARCHIVED] No neighborhood left behind: Queen City revitalization guided by community collaboration, data

A large group of people sitting at folding chairs and tables at Christ's Kitchen

PHOTO: City of Victoria Special Projects Manager Keisha Smith, middle, shares the preliminary results of a survey that is being conducted in Queen City during a meeting of City departments and other local groups working to revitalize the neighborhood Dec. 7 at Christ’s Kitchen.

The Queen City revitalization group that meets at Christ’s Kitchen has been steadily growing with each monthly meeting since its July 2022 inception. 

Assistant City Manager Mike Etienne described the eclectic group as “the people who are doing things”: representatives of City departments, local government organizations, nonprofits and community groups working together to improve the lives of Queen City residents.

At recent meetings, the group discussed their goals and progress in the context of demographic data, including results from an ongoing local survey that is being conducted by Christ’s Kitchen, a nonprofit providing free meals and outreach in the Queen City neighborhood, and Be Well Victoria, a nonprofit coalition within the Victoria County Public Health Department that focuses on improving the physical and mental well-being of underserved groups.

A place to call home

A word cloud. The biggest words are clean, park and neighborhood, followed drug, kitchen, communityPHOTO: This word cloud illustrates residents’ responses to the question, “What do you feel is the greatest need in Queen City?”

About 60% of housing in Queen City is owner-occupied, according to Census data. Etienne said the statistic was surprising, noting that the rate is slightly higher than Victoria’s overall homeownership rate of 55%.

Mike Etienne, Assistant City Manager“Revitalization efforts need to account for existing assets, and the homeownership rate in Queen City is an asset,” Etienne said.

For those residents who are still looking for a place to call home, the City of Victoria Development Services offers assistance with down payments and closing costs. Residents can visit www.victoriatx.gov/cdbg for application information.

The assistance is funded through the Community Development Block Grant program. This federal funding is reserved for projects that benefit low-income residents.

The City also offers no-cost home demolition for eligible properties through the CDBG program, which could be useful for owners of vacant houses that have fallen into disrepair. Residents can call Development Services at 361-485-3360 for more information.

Many residents who responded to the City’s survey said they would like to see some assistance with home repairs and improvements. To help address this need, the City partnered with Habitat for Humanity for roof and home repairs. More than $125,000 in CDBG grant funds will be expended on repairs for nine homes. City staff hope to reopen the program once additional funding becomes available. Officials also discussed the possibility of creating a tool lending program, known as a “tool library.”

Making ends meet

A pie chart showing whether residents' income covers their expenses. Most answered no.PHOTO: Most survey respondents said their income was not enough to cover their expenses.

According to Census data, about 20% of Queen City residents fall below the poverty line, and most survey respondents reported that they did not make enough to cover their monthly expenses.

At previous meetings, attendees have discussed the importance of breaking the cycle of poverty by helping residents become self-sufficient. Henry Guajardo, executive director of Workforce Solutions Golden Crescent, expressed interest in connecting with Queen City residents to teach them about high-demand job training opportunities and similar resources. Attendees made plans to include Workforce Solutions in community events during the coming year. 

Sense of security

A word cloud. The biggest word is safe, followed by police, lights, drugs, and feelPHOTO: This word cloud illustrates residents’ responses to the question, “What makes you feel safe or unsafe in your neighborhood?”

On the topic of safety, residents’ responses supported what the Victoria Police Department has already seen from its own data: Queen City has a problem with drugs.

Last month, the Crossroads High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas task force—made up of officers from the police department and other state and local agencies—conducted an investigation into the sale of illegal narcotics in Queen City Park, which led to seven arrests.

Interim Police Chief Mark Jameson emphasized that arrests are only one part of reducing crime and that community policing—the practice of proactively connecting with residents—will play a vital role in making Queen City safer.

Mark Jameson“We will continue communicating with residents and establishing those relationships so that they feel comfortable calling us to report crime,” Jameson said. “These revitalization group meetings and other community events are a great way for us to meet residents, hear their concerns and build trust.”

According to the survey, many Queen City residents appreciate increased police presence and feel safer when they see officers patrolling the area. The department is increasing patrols in Queen City to help deter criminal activity.

A plan for parks

Charts of suggested improvements in Queen City and Will Rogers parks. Most people want amenities.PHOTO: These pie charts categorize survey respondents’ suggestions for Queen City Park and Will Rogers Park.

Based on community input in the Parks & Recreation master plan, the City is increasing its commitment to maintaining and revitalizing Victoria’s parks. However, a park that is seen as a magnet for crime presents unique challenges.

Parks & Recreation Director Jason Alfaro said that his staff has been having conversations with parks officials in other cities with similarly troubled parks in low-income areas. One of the options his department is considering is completely repurposing the park space; for example, by allowing it to be used as the site for a community resource center or other new facility.

Security improvements could also help to address the problems at Queen City Park. In 2021, the City used federal CDBG funds to install solar-powered LED lighting at the park, which increases visibility in the area and helps deter criminal activity. Etienne said the next step could be installing floodlights.

As Parks & Recreation continues to evaluate long-term plans for the park, the department will keep using the park for recreation activities to help bring the community together.

At the group’s most recent meeting, Alfaro spoke with Crain Elementary Principal Yasmina St. Jean about the possibility of using student demographic data to determine which age groups should be the focus of Parks & Recreation’s event programming.

As the City approaches its next budget cycle, Parks & Recreation will continue to seek feedback from the community about the future of Queen City Park.

What’s next

The group is planning events during the coming months to provide support and outreach in Queen City:

  • Gulf Bend Center continues to host a weekly support group at Christ’s Kitchen 1:30-2:30 p.m. Thursdays to encourage mental wellness.
  • Parks & Recreation and Christ’s Kitchen will host a family movie night 6 p.m. Feb. 16.
  • Keep Victoria Beautiful will host a neighborhood cleanup March 4 in Queen City. To volunteer, visit www.victoriatx.gov/kvb
  • The Victoria Police Department and Christ’s Kitchen are planning to host another bike rodeo in March, where local children will have the chance to receive free bikes and learn about biking safety. A date has not yet been determined.

Etienne reminded the group that their participation is crucial because “it takes a village” to revitalize a community.

“Things are getting better, but we have a long, long way to go,” Etienne said.

Sam Hankins is the communications specialist for the City of Victoria.

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