No More Rotting Hulks | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

No More Rotting Hulks

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Every little acorn dreams of oak trees, the saying goes. Well, one little seed has come to Jackson, and is now looking to grow a virtual forest of a community.

Members of ACORN, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, met at the corner of Willow and Hooker Streets, off Terry Road, to voice complaints about the housing situation on that street and in nearby neighborhoods.

Lining Hooker Street are the rotting hulks of what was once a very influential neighborhood, judging by the elegant architecture. Three-story houses in the area sport expensively designed chimneys, elaborate front-porch construction, five-bedroom floor plans and raised traditional foundations—telltale indicators that the original builders spared few expenses in their construction. Many of the original owners fled the influx of African-Americans during the 1960s and 1970s to build new homes in what was once the northern suburbs of Jackson, suburbs that have since been incorporated into the city's Ward 1.

"The houses in this area looked great once, but right now they're a nuisance, and they're being occupied by people who make the neighborhood unsafe," said Tyrone Hendrix, a lead organizer for ACORN, which has more than 175,000 families organized in more than 80 cities across the country, according to information available at http://www.acorn.com

"We're here to give families a voice. It's not our agenda. It's their agenda. They own the organization. We're not here to give people hand-outs. We're here to help people help themselves. Give them organization, direction, materials and resources."

ACORN now has two Jackson chapters, one in the southern portion of the city and one in the western section. The organization goes door to door, raising awareness and coaxing concerned residents of a community into discussion groups. One recent discussion group revealed the Hooker Street community's growing concern about problems with dilapidated housing.

Head organizer Sonya Murphy said the organization will work to force improvements in neighborhoods by holding elected officials accountable.

"We plan to make regular appearances at council meetings," said Murphy. "We'll be there, and we'll be sure to make some noise."

Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon, who represents Hooker Street, while saying that she was eager to meet with ACORN members, countered that one of her top goals during her re-election campaign was an emphasis upon housing renovation or removal. She points to a "complete revitalization of Battlefield Park," for instance, and the removal of more than 1,900 rotting homes in the last nine years.

"In the neighborhood of Battlefield Park, Habitat for Humanity has completed 18 houses, and we're in the process of partnering with them to acquire other parcels for immediate housing," Barrett-Simon said.

"Our numbers were way up, and we exceeded our housing removal goal by hundreds of houses, compared to prior years."

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