Greensboro grassroots group wins national health bill grant
By: Jessica Clifford
Out of 127 applicants, Collaborative Cottage Grove in Greensboro is one of 19 recipients of the Build Health Challenge Grant, which supports community collaboratives in areas that are experiencing health disparities. The collaborative will receive $250,000 from the grant, with their partner – the Cone Health System – matching the grant, making it a total of $500,000. The grant will provide funding for organized teams working on projects towards healthier housing, environmental training, food access and more in the Cottage Grove community.
“We are working on developing an electronic referral system to link families with asthma to educational housing assessments along with other resource agencies,” said Josie Williams, the Greensboro Housing Coalition’s project team coordinator. Cottage Grove is a community on the eastern side of Greensboro; prior to the 1950s, it was located across from the city’s junkyard. Since then, the area has deteriorated and become inundated with substandard apartments at low renting costs. Williams said a few years ago refugee settlement agencies suggested immigrants live in this community, creating a diverse population.
The 2010 census recorded 20 percent of households in the community live in poverty, with 40 percent of the residents being foreign-born. The area’s diversity is found in the languages spoken there as well – 53 percent of the Cottage Grove community speak another language other than English.
Collaborative Cottage Grove consists of 10 partnerships, including Greensboro Housing Coalition, which advocates for the residents living in the community’s substandard apartments by pushing for change in the landlord’s malpractices.
“We sat down with the owners almost a year ago to say how can we help and bring resources to fix this place up,” said Brett Byerly, the executive director of Greensboro’s Housing Coalition. “They didn’t really want to work with us.”
With issues ranging from unrepaired plumbing, leaking roofs, bugs and rodents, sewage leaks, broken air conditioning and heating units, the community is swelling with damages through years of unkept property.
“When you have a child that lives in an apartment full of cockroaches they’re breathing all that mess in and all the moisture, you can’t help but be in the hospital,” Byerly said.
One resident recently had a faucet issue in which water was flowing from three places – the faucet itself, through a hole in the side of the faucet’s arm and underneath the sink.
“We are working with people who through the winter don’t have heat, that’s no fault of their own, that’s because the landlord won’t fix the heat,” Williams said. “We are working with people who have sewage in their apartment for weeks, that’s no fault of their own that’s about the plumbing not being fixed by the landlord.”
Overwhelming problems caused the city last month to place a forced order of repair on the Avalon Trace apartments, located in the Cottage Grove community. The landowner has 90 days to repair the issues or the city will enforce a lien, making the city responsible for fixing the problems if no action is taken. However, issues surpass the living conditions. Williams said the owner complains about the residents being $800 to $1,000 behind on rent, yet when the Greensboro Housing Coalition looked through resident’s banking records they found residents were either not behind at all or only a minimum of $100 behind on their rent.
“One of our [Health Outreach Team and Greensboro Housing Coalition staffers] sat down with a resident and went back for months just to trace every time that they paid,” Williams said. “What we found out was that rent was paid on time but was deposited late and then [the landlords] were charging late fees.”
Though the landowner attempted to sell the property three or four times, Byerly said no agreement was made. Greensboro Housing Coalition is always looking for desirable landowners to take the property over and make the necessary changes needed in the Cottage Grove community. Community assistance guides the push towards fair and healthy housing.
“When residents stand up for themselves, residents are heard,” Byerly said.
Many people have already shared stories of their residency at the apartments in Cottage Grove. For some, they have lived in the community for 25, even 55 years.
“As we move forward, my goal and the goal of this partnership is to continue to make the resident’s voice a priority,” Williams said.
The collaborative is becoming a catalyst. Other neighborhoods suffering from housing disparities, such as the residents in the Glenwood neighborhood, are watching the changes being made in Cottage Grove and want to see changes for themselves as well. A few attended and participated in the Sept. 16 Collaborative Cottage Grove meeting, sharing their ideas and concerns.
“You can be young, old, rich or poor, your housing should be your safe place to go,” Williams said.“It doesn’t matter what age you are, the heart of the matter is everyone feels that is their safe haven and when that is affected in a negative way it impacts you.”
Large steps are being made to improve Cottage Grove, and Williams made it known the current efforts will bring forth a healthier community.