Ask residents what they like about the Takoma Park area, and you may hear a variety of answers. “The accessible amenities.” “The schools.” “The neighbors and community.” “The farmers markets.”
Ask them what they don’t like, and the answer you may hear over and over is “the lack of affordable homeownership opportunities.”
This was the theme at a recent housing community meeting held by Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER), a local nonprofit organization.
CHEER’s first-ever housing community meeting was held on Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Takoma Park Community Center to inform Takoma Park residents about housing trends in the area and to discuss their concerns. A short presentation about CHEER and housing trends in Takoma Park was given, and eleven short video interviews of various residents and their opinions about Takoma Park and Long Branch were shown to the group. About 40 people attended the event, including Councilmembers Terry Seamens and Dan Robinson, and Mayor Bruce Williams.
The event opened with Christopher King, Chair of the Board of Directors, introducing CHEER and its process. CHEER is an organization with the mission to provide people with the knowledge and ability to create healthy, thriving communities by using community indicators (data that measures local conditions) to serve as benchmarks of progress toward community-defined goals. The ongoing process includes: community engagement, shared vision and goals, and using selected indicators to identify and take actions that make a difference in fulfilling the shared goals.
The event addressed certain housing issues in Takoma Park such as affordability, housing opportunity and neighborhood connectedness. Some trends concerned attendees. For example, the cost of single-family homes in Takoma Park has increased 114 percent between 2000 and 2008. And in 2007, about 38 percent of renters were considered “housing burdened,” which means that more than 30 percent of the renter’s income is spent on housing expenses.
A short video of 11 interviews about Takoma Park housing with various Takoma Park residents was shown after the presentation.
While the videos were generally optimistic about the amenities in Takoma Park and the positive aspects about the community, the presentation concerned some, and many offered up their opinions about how to better the community.
“I heard a sense of belonging in the video,” said Ronnie Galvin. “Outside, I’m hearing, does the community really belong to me, too?”
Some attendees expressed a concern shared by others that improving social connectedness was crucial to improving Takoma Park “We’re seeing things becoming divided when they need to be coming together,” said Jacquette Frazier. Most agreed that community engagement is an important aspect, but figuring out how to best involve everyone is the obstacle.
“If it were easy, we’d have done it by now,” said Susan Wood
While there were certainly many concerns, residents also took advantage of the opportunity to voice their positive opinions about Takoma Park during discussion. Most confirmed that Takoma Park is a great place to live.
Bruce Baker and Christopher King considered the event to be a success.
“The one commonality we see is that everyone loves Takoma Park,” said Christopher King. “I challenge you to find an area where homeowners and renters alike love their area.”
CHEER will host another housing discussion event on November 18 at 7 pm at Heffner Community Center (42 Oswego Avenue) in Takoma Park.