Mesa lovin’ results of neighborhood program

The Love Your Neighborhood program that the city piloted in two west Mesa areas produced remarkable results in their quality of life, officials told City Council last week. Some of the evidence came in the form of before and after photos of specific properties like the above. Other evidece came in the form of resident surveys showing they felt they knew their neighbors better, felt safer and thought their block looked cleaner than it has in a while.

Two Mesa neighborhoods received a $350,000 makeover thanks to a new pilot program geared toward re-vamping struggling areas within the city.

Residents say they see fewer instances of crime, graffiti and rundown properties as a result of the Love Your Neighborhood program, according to Housing and Community Development Director Liz Morales.

The pilot program was created in the spring of 2016 as a citywide effort to beautify communities and arm residents with the tools and knowledge to maintain their properties, stay in code compliance and step into leadership roles.

The areas covered run from north of Main Street to University Drive, Country Club to Extension and south of Main Street to Broadway Road, Extension to Robson.

The program also seeks to encourage feelings of pride and safety.

“We already know that when you bring in resources, you can make a small improvement,” said Morales. “What we wanted to show is that we’re not just bringing in city services, but also helping the neighborhoods develop tools and knowledge so they can be sustainable without the City constantly intervening.”

The City secured a $417,000 Community Development Block Grant — which is federal funding for community development needs — in the summer of 2016 to fuel the program.

When the time came to choose the two neighborhoods, Morales said the Transforming Neighborhood Initiative work group created a “blight index” to determine which neighborhoods needed some extra TLC.

The index included factors like code violations, crime rates, instances of graffiti and number of vacant properties.

The work group found that, between the two neighborhoods, there were 400 single family homes — 57 percent of which were owner-occupied. The remaining 278 were multi-family units with a median income was $38,000.

While Community Services spearheaded the program, Love Your Neighborhood involved multiple city departments.

Mesa Fire and Medical installed and inspected smoke alarms in 30 percent of the homes, while the Transportation Department conducted easement projects and looked at sidewalks and street conditions for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Everyone was great about going out and using the resources available from their lens, and looked at every angle from the City,” said Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator Lindsey Balinkie. “We all came together and every department contributed. I think that was very valuable.”

The Solid Waste Division provided dumpsters and other cleanup resources.

The Police Department did “special enforcement” on properties that were seeing higher rates of crime.

“We worked with the community action officer and crime prevention officer for that area and they did assessments,” said Balinkie. “They already knew about some of the challenging properties where there were high levels of calls for service.”

“One property changed management and did a nice rehab and it became a benefit to that neighborhood — that’s where we saw a big change,” Balinkie added. “Once they flipped the property, and the new management held people accountable, it made it a more peaceful place to live and it peppered out from that one property.”

In early 2018, Habitat for Humanity — a global nonprofit housing organization — stepped in to offer residents classes on home maintenance, energy efficiency, prescription drug abuse awareness, green living and hazardous waste disposal.

The nonprofit also provided home renovations like roof replacements, painting, landscaping and “curb appeal.”

Meanwhile, code compliance officers assessed properties and continued the education on code ordinances via classes and flyers.

In a before and after survey presented to the City Council, residents claimed that they knew their neighbors better and felt like they were able to work together, and that the yards and homes were more maintained.

Morales told the East Valley Tribune that Love Your Neighborhood is down to the last two houses within the neighborhoods and has around $70,000 to spare.

“We would’ve loved to spend all the money, but now that can roll into other projects that do similar rehab,” she said. “We needed to have an end date.”  

As far as next steps go, Morales said the city plans on staying in contact with the residents of both neighborhoods.

“We know that knowledge comes and goes, and people either forget or move,” she explained. “We want to stay in touch with these neighborhoods so they know we’re here to support.”

Community Services is also in the process of setting up a leadership program, offering similar educational opportunities that the pilot program provided.

Anyone can participate in the upcoming program, said Balinkie, which will be considered separate from Love Your Neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of ways that neighborhoods can receive assistance from the City and utilize City resources,” said Balinkie. “We’re encouraging people to reach out to us because if we’re not hearing from them regularly we don’t always know they’re interested in receiving help or in need of assistance.

“You don’t have to be a part of Love Your Neighborhood,” she continued.

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