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Black's Comments
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Common Council Public Comment Period: June 4, 2001 Helen Black, 39 TB Place, Arbor Hill, Albany.

Tonight I come once again to express my perspective as a homeowner on the corner of N. Swan Street. Tonight once again I am thankful for the opportunity to address you as I have more than a dozen times since last November. For the past several months, I have pleaded with you to consider the plight of Arbor Hill and to take a stand for a different plan than that proposed by the Mayor and the Albany Housing Authority.

Tonight I come as a neighbor of Mary Bell, Broderick Green and their families and am filled with shock, outrage and grief at the events of this past week. Did I know each of them personally? No, but I probably have seen them walk through the parking lot of the Ten Broeck Mansion or on Swan Street or heard their voices because that is how close and how loud it is at times. I feel as though I do know them because the needs beyond housing are obvious:

Quality education, programs for youth, teens and seniors, jobs for youth and adults and yes, treatment for addictions, neighborhood services, recreation and green spaces, etc etc etc.

It is also obvious to me, the others who regularly speak asking for a Master Plan for Arbor Hill and experts throughout our nation that the concentration of poor people in one area never solves problems, but only serves to exacerbate them! When Mary Bell, the loving mother of an 8 year old is upset with teens hanging out on her doorstep, it is not a surprise because that is what frequently happens in overcrowded poor neighborhoods; not enough space or things to do. When Malika Baker dropped out of school to care for younger siblings, it was no surprise because education wasn’t reportedly valued in her family and help was needed while her Mom earned a living. After all, they had left the Bronx to get away from the violence there. Malika dreamed about becoming a hairstylist according to a friend.

What is shocking is that Mary is dead at 28 leaving a little daughter and Malika is in jail with very little hope for her future. You tell me what role you think that poverty, lack of education and high density housing for the poor had in this situation.

Then consider less than 1 week later and 1 block away, 17 year old Junior, who had just helped a neighbor carry some groceries, being literally blown away by a gunshot as he walks out of the store drinking a soda. Then another teenager within hours in the South End. And do not minimize the less publicized attempted murder again a block away within the last week in Arbor Hill. You tell me what role you think poverty, concentration of the poor and perhaps lack of education, jobs, drugs and gangs had in this situation.

To quote this morning’s TU, "authorities had cautioned that the year’s relative calm would probably be short lived with summer approaching. A city of Albany’s size average about 14 homicides a year, according to Dept of Justice"

Or maybe consider the another quote from June 1, TU article on killings in Buffalo – the area where I lived, not right in the inner city, but something like North Albany where the houses are spaced apart and Sarah Curry Cobb fought hard to reduce the density of poor people in her neighborhood: "John Taylor, 23, was one of 19 people murdered in Buffalo in May, a puzzling and troubling spike that comes after a 7year decline in violent crime in the city…."Experts point to an availability of guns and a willingness to use them…social and economic factors…"The impoverished east side neighborhood where the killings have been concentrated has a higher unemployment rate."

Yes, I am shocked, outraged, and grieving for all those involved. Yes, I am alarmed that killings have just moved from Swan, not stopped: Safety is critical any improvement will come. (Yet, Jestin Williams says and I quote from the May 10, TU"Critics have misrepresented Arbor Hill project"…he says there will be 20 home ownership units in the proposed Swan Street project although there has never yet been any published information on funding for any home ownership units "at this time". What he does not mention is that the project would take away 69 owned residences or businesses. This is a net loss of 49 owned units. And of course, there is the already overcrowded Arbor Hill Elementary school and it’s lowest test scores in the City public school system, lack of programs, services, etc etc etc. )Note: Had to omit this italicized portion because of time.

I am pleading once again to each Council elected representative from every Ward in our City, please stand up for what is right: No more concentration of housing for the poor in Arbor Hill. Provide funding for a Master Plan with true resident representation (not like the Swan St: 5 politicians, 3 city employees or city funded reps, 3 ministers who do not live in the city, 1 N. Albany resident and a husband and wife from Arbor Hill)!. I hope it will not take 19 murders in one month for this Council to say: We want fair and equal treatment for Arbor Hill because it is good for them and good for all the City. Thank you.