By Greg Jackson, Esq.
After taking three consecutive weeks to write about violence in the Apopka community, my sincere hope is that I now have your attention so that I can share my opinion of how strategic, deliberate economic development within underserved areas of Apopka may serve as one of the major solutions to the problem. Just recently, a small Central Florida town of less than 3,000 residents was visited by Governor Rick Scott who announced major jobs and economic development coming to the town. The project involves over $50 million in development and will bring over 100 high-tech jobs to an area that needs a boost to its revenue engine. A statement made by the Governor as he was greeted in a room of less than 25 people stood out to me -- jobs and economic opportunities change attitudes.
One bit of information that I have firsthand knowledge of is that the community redevelopment agency ("CRA") in this small town provided some necessary funding to keep the project on track. I also know that in anticipation of the upcoming development, the town with the assistance of a brilliant young lawyer developed an infill affordable housing program to provide downpayment assistance to home buyers to help redevelop an area seeking economic growth opportunities. Why am I discussing this? Because I am convinced that Apopka's CRA is poised to bring equal and greater economic opportunities to the areas within its CRA boundaries, specifically south of 441 and along Central Avenue, if it can realize that jobs and economic development changes attitudes.
In describing the purpose and use of CRA funds, I can use technical and legal terms that even confuse most elected officials and even some members of CRA Boards who are charged with overseeing the agency and the use of its funds. But, in short, CRA's are statutorily created agencies that were established to address "slum" and "blighted" areas within defined boundaries of a municipality. In some rare cases, the CRA boundaries encompass the whole municipality; but in other areas, such as Apopka, the CRA boundaries encompass areas that have been largely underserved and would benefit from redevelopment efforts. For fear that I may be giving an over-simplified view of CRA's, I believe that CRA funds best serve a community when the communities needs are evaluated, keeping in mind that the primary intent of such funds is to address slum and blighted areas. Interestingly, in laying out workable programs for CRA's to prevent the spread of slum and blighted areas, the law dictates that there should be development of affordable housing programs, as well as the implementation of community policing innovations.
In taking an unprecedented approach to address an issue that is reaching epidemic proportions -- violent crimes -- a plan has been developed by the Apopka Task Force on Violence and it is seeking funds to help reduce violence while increasing economic opportunities to change attitudes. The reality is that in order for this plan to work effectively, funds are needed from state, local and possibly federal sources. With Apopka, my sincere hope is that instead of finding excuses to not work together, efforts will be made to find ways to breathe life into a plan that seeks to use economic development as a part of the solution to help reduce violence in the community, while promoting business and economic growth -- in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a past Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.