Riverside magnifies need for affordable housing

Published 2:00 am Sunday, February 5, 2017

Oxford’s Riverside Place housing complex residents should be better off in the long run. It’s just that relocation for families is never easy.

Living in a so-called project keeps residents living on government support surrounded by culture of government support. Many now believe a voucher system is better, like the one being offered to Riverside residents, in that it allows families to live, and grow, in the broader community.

So the city is closing Riverside, but working to make sure its residents can affordably continue living in the community – hopefully with better living conditions than Riverside provides.

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City alderman Janice Antonow, a trusted friend for decades and an advocate for the people, explains that the concept of putting subsidized housing residents together into one complex is an old-school mentality. It’s better, she said, if Riverside residents live throughout the community.

And that’s a good point.

Growing up in Oxford, Riverside was called Eastview and it was well known as the roughest, toughest part of the city. Spotters kept an eye out for traffic coming into the complex, so those involved in unsavory activity could be warned of incoming guests, including police cars.

Today Riverside has many good community residents, but the facility is in disrepair. And, it has a remote, closed-off location that keeps it choked away from the broader community.

No good comes from that.

The city’s only options are to either help the residents take vouchers and relocate to other living arrangements, or find a partner to rehabilitate the building so that low-income housing there can continue.

Choices, of course, often result in controversy in politics.

Naysayers suggest the city is trying to push these low-income residents out. It’s true, unfortunately, that some Riverside residents will take voucher and relocate to other communities, including Memphis, with affordable housing options.

But it’s also true that Oxford, with a strong hand from the Oxford Housing Authority, is working hard to make sure that all Riverside residents who want to remain in Oxford and Lafayette County can.

It’s also true that Riverside is rundown and outdated, with no central air or washer and dryer hookups in units, meaning residents could get vastly improved housing, once they get through what could be a challenging transition.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Oxford and Lafayette County have no need for more affordable housing. Of course we do. As our community becomes more popular, as one of the South’s fastest growing cities, its housing options are becoming more expensive.

But it seems the affordable housing argument and the need for change at Riverside are two different conversations.

For the moment, getting Riverside residents relocated and in better living conditions is Oxford’s top priority, but it doesn’t come without challenges.

The government housing vouchers are apparently enough to rent in this community, paying up to $1,109 for a three bedroom apartment. The challenge is paying for relocation expenses, since apartment and utility deposits and moving fees can be expensive.

That’s why Oxford’s Interfaith Compassion Ministries is stepping up starting this week to collect funds through its partner churches that will provide funds to help the families make the transition.

ICM’s board chairman Dick Marchbanks says almost $50,000 is needed, and these funds are above normal Interfaith donations, which help families pay for electric bills and other needs in emergencies. He’s hopeful, however, the money can be raised, and says screening will be provided to ensure that all funds go directly to cover deposits and other relocation expenses.

Ultimately, the aim is for all Riverside residents to be relocated in the coming months, and efforts are being made to make staying in the community both easy and desirable.

Here’s hoping they continue to call Oxford and Lafayette County home, and find life beyond Riverside a blessing.

David Magee is Publisher of The Eagle.