(Photo courtesy of Louisiana-Destinations.com)
Last Modified: Monday, March 17, 2014 12:34 PMOn the third floor of the SEED Center, it’s probably easy to predict what Jerry Jones is doing. A window on his desktop computer is most likely on Google Earth, scouring the Lake Charles area for places in need of redevelopment. His laptop is probably running a PowerPoint presentation describing just how that redevelopment could take place. Even though Jones was only recently put in charge of the Lake Charles North Redevelopment Authority, he’s made a concerted effort to get the message out about what he and the rest of the authority are trying to do.
The organization is focused on changing the image of the city starting from the inside. An emphasis is put on the work that can be done in north Lake Charles.
“When it comes to Lake Charles north, there are a couple of things we have to battle about it. There’s a public perception. People do perceive the area as unsafe. If they don’t, they think it’s a place you should basically run from, which isn’t good,” Jones said. “There are some really great things happening in Lake Charles north, but the city needs to learn how to celebrate it.”
Jones likes to refer to two other authorities in the state as good examples for the Lake Charles North Redevelopment Authority: the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority. This fact is highlighted in the steps Jones wants to take to help clear up some of the adjudicated properties across the north Lake Charles area. If officials used “The Lot Next Door” program implemented in New Orleans or a program similar to it, Jones said, those properties could ultimately be returned to productive use.
One of the early steps in the redevelopment process is a north Lake Charles market study and five-year strategic plan.
“As each pressing year comes along, we’ll look and say, ‘Have we worked toward this area? Are we committing to this?” Jones said. “If we need to make changes, we will.”
He said one of the authority’s primary concerns is a familiar one for the area and its residents: affordable housing. To help explain the problem some of the residents face in the city, he talked about how incomes are divided among households.
On average, a family bringing in about $17,000 per year will spend about $24,000, he said.
“With those numbers, you see that they’re always in the red. The largest bill they’re paying is housing. Just about all of their money is going toward housing, making it hard for them to basically afford anything else,” Jones said.
Families making about $63,000 per year are spending about $49,000, meaning that some of the money is being put into savings, Jones said. Families making about $247,000 are spending somewhere close to $123,000.
“The more you make, the less you spend,” Jones said. “What we’re trying to do as an authority is go into our communities, because those first two incomes are primarily what we’re going to be dealing with in north Lake Charles, and go into our areas and educate our people based on, ‘If you make $17,000 per year, you need to live as though you’re making $15,000.’ You need to start finding meaningful ways to reduce your overhead so you can start saving.”
One of the other concerns Jones and the authority have deals with not being able to reach some of the residents their efforts are focused on. Jones said the clearest way to look at the situation is by thinking of Lyndon B. Johnson’s theoretical concept of waging war against poverty. He added that in some parts of north Lake Charles, there will be some resistance toward putting up affordable housing.
“Fifty years later, he’s dead but poverty is still there. That’s just how it is. Poverty will always be with us. Not everybody is going to walk away saying, ‘Oh, we get it.’ We’re just trying to reach as many as we can,” Jones said.
“The push shouldn’t be against affordable housing. We should be making sure affordable housing is available and that there are programs linked to affordable housing that do not keep you in the system of actually needing affordable housing.”
In the end, Jones said the authority’s success will be based on its ability to get involved in the community, educate residents about what it’s trying to do and spreading the message of redevelopment as far as it can.
“The answer is with the people. It’s never been about leadership. It’s always been about the people. People think there’s one leader making these things happen. It’s a group of people coming together for a common cause in order to promote the values they hold near and dear to their community,” Jones said. “Any event we can get involved with, we want to make sure it’s about family. That’s the main the thing.”
One of Jones’ main talking points deals with beautification in the area. In his presentations, he shows pictures of flower beds on street corners, creative bike racks near parks and unique lighting fixtures instead of traditional street lamps.
“This is not just about Lake Charles north. I want to emphasis that,” Jones said. “When I get on the interstate I see houses that should either be fixed up or torn down. I think that’s what should be discussed. What do you see? Lake Charles is reflection of all of us.”