By Greg Jackson, Esq.
I have a number of friends and associates who have run for, and been elected to, public ofﬁce on the local, state and federal levels. One bit of advice that I offer to those I consider friends is to never equate being elected to public ofﬁce with being an authority on all things related to the communities they serve. I encourage them to seek guidance and advice from those with experience in various ﬁelds, as well as offer myself as an information resource; I ﬁgure my clients pay a great deal for my guidance, why not give a little back to the community? The reason I give this advice, is because time and time again I have seen individuals with great promise and a desire to make a difference, get in to ofﬁce and take on the attitudes and patterns of behavior of their predecessors.
Recently, the unwillingness of some elected ofﬁcials throughout the State of Florida, who serve on their municipalities' respective community redevelopment agency (CRA) boards, to walk a path different from their predecessors resulted in a grand jury investigation and report titled "CRAs: The Good, The Bad and The Questionable." The grand jury's investigative report found that many CRA's failed to use their funds to further the purpose and intent of the legislature, which is to address slum and blighted areas. It appears that many CRA's have placed the development of business ahead of the interest of the residents in the underserved communities that are placed within CRA boundaries. Instead of developing affordable housing programs to address the downtrodden conditions of many residents within CRA boundaries, some CRA's put hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars into streetscape and building façade projects. While these projects look good and give an instant facelift to the community, they badly fail to address the primary purpose for which CRA's were brought into existence, which is to improve the conditions of communities that have been identiﬁed as slum and blighted areas through programs that seek to improve housing, sanitation and community policing to name a few. Most important of these, it appears from the legislature's and grand jury's standpoint housing is the top priority for the allocation of CRA funds, with the thought presumably being that once the housing issues have been address, then CRA funds could then be directed to the more visible projects, i.e., streetscape, etc.
For those who are not aware, the area known as "South Apopka" -- from Highway 441 to 10th Street, between Park Avenue and Hawthorne -- sits within the Apopka CRA boundary. Also, many folks do not know that the Apopka CRA has been in existence for over 20 years and lay dormant for a number of years until the current administration wisely brought it back to life. I could tell you much more about the Apopka CRA, like the fact that the CRA Plan actually has an affordable housing provision. However, what I would like is for folks to imagine what "South Apopka" would look like now if the CRA followed its intent and purpose 15 to 20 years ago.
A ride through Apopka's designated CRA district will reveal areas that will beneﬁt from affordable housing programs and other redevelopment strategies that would bring opportunities to the community for home ownership, business growth and jobs. Many people wonder why I speak so much about economic development; it's because I see economic development as a way to change attitudes, change conditions and change lives. Yes, more can go into changing attitudes, conditions and lives, such as education, health, etc., but economic development provides the resources to truly help underserved communities to become sustainable from within and promotes less reliance on government.
So, if you live within the Apopka CRA district in "South Apopka," consider attending a CRA meeting to give your thoughts and ideas of how to best address the needs of the community through redevelopment. I am conﬁdent that each of your commissioners and mayor, all of whom sit on the CRA Board, will be receptive to your thoughts and ideas of how to bring the much needed growth and development to the CRA area south of 441 so that it reﬂects the growth and development seen in the CRA area north of 441 -- 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.
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