Top HUD official visits public housing

Published 11:12 pm Monday, July 18, 2016

U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, HUD principal deputy assistant secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez and Selma Mayor George Evans listen to residents at GWC Homes during a roundtable discussion Monday.

U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, HUD principal deputy assistant secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez and Selma Mayor George Evans listen to residents at GWC Homes during a roundtable discussion Monday.

A top United States Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official visited Selma on Monday, advancing conversations on public housing needs here.

Lourdes Castro Ramirez, HUD principal deputy assistant secretary, toured Selma and met with residents of George Washington Carver Homes.

The visit follows one by HUD Secretary Julian Castro before last year’s 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches.

“We have a firm belief that our responsibility is to do what we can to support communities like Selma and uplifting the quality of life by investing in public housing communities,” Castro Ramirez said. “I’m very impressed and honored to be part of this visit.”

Last year, HUD awarded the city a $250,000 grant to access needs in the public housing community and make recommendations for improvements.

“We have had a good visit so far. This is a follow-up from Castro’s visit,” Selma Mayor George Evans said. “(Castro and residents) meet right here in the building and made a promise to the young people that he wanted to see a change take place here in GWC as well as the neighboring areas of our city.”

U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell joined Castro Ramirez on the tour and said an assessment of public housing in Selma would be the next step in the project.

“While my dream is to tear down and rebuild, it may be that the recommendation is comprehensive renovations. The next step is we anticipate getting this report,” Sewell said.

GWC Homes were built in the 1950s and are made up of cinder block. The homes border Brown Chapel AMC Church, and many marchers in the voting rights movement either called GWC home or were welcomed to stay there while in town.

There are 216 public housing units at GWC Homes. Across Selma, there are close to 600 public housing units in a handful of projects, some that are solely for the elderly. About 1,000 additional people receive vouchers to help pay rent.

“They are looking for a hand-up, not a handout. They all understand the importance of personal responsibility when it comes to having a keeping a home,” Sewell said.

The Congresswoman acknowledged money for new public housing construction is hard to come by but said she believes the right combination of public and private financing can make improvements a reality.

“We have to be innovative to accomplish what we want to accomplish here,” Sewell said. “We are looking at trying to figure out how we can hobble pubic and private dollars to make a difference right here at George Washington Carver homes.”

During a meeting with residents, concerns about the condition of the homes as well as programs for children and youth were discussed. Castro Ramirez said the group also talked about forming a residential advisory committee to help address some of these concerns.

“One of the things I’m very thankful for is having the opportunity to sit down with residents from the George Washington Carver community to hear first-hand about their concerns but also their dreams — what they would like to see in this community.”