Last week I met K. LaVerne Redden, who is president of the London Square Area Neighborhood Club. It was an honor. Ms. Redden is waging a one-woman fight against blight.
And she is not getting a lot of help.
I met her at St. Martin de Porres Church, where she is “director of social concern.” I think a lot of Toledoans would be amazed at how much goes on at this church. I know I was. The poor are getting fed and clothed on a daily basis there.
I think most of us would also be amazed and encouraged by the London Square Area Neighborhood Club. Ms. Redden walked me through the neighborhood — of good, solid, modest homes where people live because they grew up there. And they want to live near their loved ones and near their roots. We talk the word “community” to death. To me, that’s community.
Ms. Redden told me, several times, that neighborhoods are sustained “from the inside out.” True enough. But even the strongest need help.
She founded the London Square Area Neighborhood Club in 1992 and has served as its president several times. The club functions as a kind of “welcome wagon” when people move in or move back in, but also as an ongoing advocacy and organizational arm for the neighborhood. She explains that many people in London Square are between the ages of 60 and 90 and almost none has deep pockets. Keeping up homes, and the neighborhood, is a challenge for people in that age bracket. “So we band together,” she says.
As we walked, she greeted people on their porches and in their driveways. Sometimes they told her they needed a handyman or some kids to pick up trash in the streets. She finds them. She also puts people in touch with the city’s Department of Neighborhoods and with Habitat for Humanity.
Every year, she submits a few names to the city for folks to get their houses painted with funds from a federal HUD grant. She pointed to the home of one lady who is 92 and got her house painted last year. The house looks great. She said this paint job gave the woman great pride and happiness, indeed “a new lease on life.”
Ms. Redden left herself off the list last year, though she said her house needs paint.
Of the 50 or so houses we passed, seven or eight are empty. There are various stories behind each vacancy. Ms. Redden knows most of them. The members of the club mow the grass at those homes and pick up newspapers and mail. Most look pretty good.
We rounded the corner to see N. 1144 Detroit Ave. (the corner of Detroit and Grand). Ms. Redden calls it her “nemesis.” It is a fenced-in “recycling center” at the cite of the old Driggs Dairy. It is owned by HEI Properties, known in the neighborhood as Haythorne Properties. But it sits in the middle of this residential area, and to the neighbors of London Square, it is simply a huge and out-of-control dump. Though the club has repeatedly begged him to cease and desist, Ms. Redden said the owner brings trash from other sites to this site — concrete, old tires, you name it.
Can he do that? You wouldn’t think so. But I spoke with Chris Zervos, director of the Department of Inspection for Toledo. The city has taken the owner to court; it has tried to relocate the business; it has listened to the neighborhood and made a real effort fix this problem.
Nothing has worked. Ms. Redden said neighborhood windows and cars are covered with dust. The pile of rocks and junk gets higher and higher. Windows in homes nearby cannot be opened in summer. This would not be tolerated in West Toledo or the Old West End.
Yet, it goes on.
Ms. Redden showed me an eloquent letter she wrote when Mike Bell was mayor. She wrote to the mayor, the housing court judge, and and several then-members of City Council. She said only the judge answered, saying he’d done all he could.
Ms. Redden told me she and her group will keep the neighborhood up, but she thinks the government ought to step in and prevent London Square’s desecration and destruction. It does not seem like too much to ask. But it might take new legislation.
Here are folks trying to save their neighborhood from urban indifference and blight, and an irresponsible property owner is allowed to come into the neighborhood and create a dump — possibly an asthma-causing one.
Ms. Redden told me she likes to stay positive and that she dislikes “finger pointers.” But she is disappointed in the mayor. She sees no cops walking the beat in London Square. Or even, she said, slowing down as they drive by. She sees no help with her nemesis, the dumper.
She notes that the mayor ran on a platform of helping neighborhoods, and she asked me, “What happened to that?”
What did happen to that?
Three weeks ago, I met with activists in Point Place, and they asked the same question.
If city government can’t find a way help the people in this neighborhood, who are already helping themselves to such a great and noble extent, I don’t know why we have a city government.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.