NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY - Controversy is growing over plans to renovate a public housing complex in New Bern.
New Bern City Aldermen approved a $25 million bond resolution presented by the New Bern Housing Authority at a special meeting Tuesday night.
"The interiors need renovation now," said housing authority chair, E.T. Mitchell.
The 360 Craven Terrace units will be renovated for around $80,000 each. This includes a brand new sewer system for the community and new kitchens and bathrooms among other things. The housing authority says bonds will allow private companies to come in and renovate the apartments and in turn they'll be compensated with tax credits and a portion of rent paid by tenants. They say taxpayers will not bear any of the burden for the project. Former New Bern Mayor Lee Bettis is at odds with current city leaders over the decision.
"A redecorating party might feel good but it's just not going to work," said Bettis.
The former mayor says the real issue is how densely populated the complex is not what the inside of the homes look like. He says renovations don't address the real problem.
"De-densification is the help they need. Redecorating isn't going to to solve the problem of getting rid of the criminals who live there," said Bettis. There are criminals there unlawfully, preying on the people who live there. Preying on the young women...preying on the elderly who live there. We have to de-densify so these thugs that don't belong there in the first place don't have hideouts. You redecorate them, you're just going to give these thugs really pretty hideouts."
Mitchell insists something has to be done now and this is the best course of action while other long-term options continue to be considered.
"it is not a band-aid. It will improve the quality of life and it allows the housing authority to make substantial improvements in the residents lives today," said Mitchell.
Bettis feels this move will have long term, negative implications on the city and doesn't address the density issue.
"What they're doing is going to lock those projects into 40 years of economic despair. Nobody is going to be able to redevelop the Broad Street corridor. The good people who live there are getting hurt," said Bettis.
Bettis has said for some time that the best option is tear down a portion or all of the homes and create a less dense living area which could possibly involve displacing some residents. But Mitchell says displacing anyone who lives there is something she will not do. The Housing Authority says during renovations residents would be cycled in and out of about 40 vacant apartments in Craven Terrace while there respective buildings are renovated.
The project still needs approval by HUD and the state department of environment and natural resources.