By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Nearly 100 people from across the Southeast were in Birmingham Friday for the Resident Council Conference to learn about ways to create programs and initiatives that will strengthen their communities.
The Council President Advisory Board (CPAB) for the Birmingham Housing Authority hosted the conference for visitors from Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Maryland and various cities around Alabama.
“The passion and vision of Birmingham resident leaders have quickly spread across the Southeast,” said Michael Lundy, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD). “As a result, we have visitors from multiple states making the visit to Birmingham to gain valuable information and share their own experiences. This is just our second year and it can only get bigger and better.”
The conference is the creation of residents through the CPAB, the umbrella group of resident leaders from all of Birmingham’s 14 public housing communities.
Last year, the CPAB hosted the Women of Public Housing Conference, which focused on empowering women who live in public housing. This year the attention was on the entire community, said Bertha Davis, president of the CPAB.
“We try to bring focus on other resident councils, bringing leadership to their communities,” Davis said. “We want to serve as an advocate, to show how it’s done. If you don’t have a resident council, we show you how to create one. Our aim is to fellowship with everyone here.”
Transitioning to homeownership was an important part of the conference, Davis said. “It’s still needed for residents to have to call their own,” she said. But, “before you go out there you need to be ready.”
Jaquice Reynolds, Southtown president, talked about the positive in public housing.
“We have a lot of our kids who have grown up and gone off to college, we have a lot of parents who have gone back to school and furthered their education and got better jobs, but still public housing is manageable for them,” said Reynolds, who has two children in college. “Lose the perception of ‘you live in the projects.’ It’s not about where you live, it’s how you’re living.”
Unity was the theme of this year’s conference, Reynolds said.
“How to operate as one in a community,” she said. “A lot of communities, you need numbers. There’s power in numbers in a community. Unity is built together. That’s what we’re pushing and striving for this year: togetherness.”
Part of the conference was designed to educate some of the resident councils, she added.
“Many don’t know about rental calculations, life choices, how to help their board and learning to operate as a board in your community,” she said. “We (CPAB) act more as mediators between property managers and residents. That’s important because you may have managers who don’t know how to communicate with residents and there is miscommunication.”
Willie Jean Lewis, president of Freedom Manor in Birmingham and a CPAB member, said all public housing issues and needs are the same across the Southeast. “By us focusing on coming together maybe we can bring change,” she said.
Attendees also toured several areas in housing areas and landmarks in Birmingham including Park Place, Marks Village’s Campus of Hope, the Park at Sydney Drive – a new mixed income 120-unit apartment complex – Loveman Village and the Civil Rights District.