Capital Area Justice Ministry’s Big Night

Capital Area Justice Ministry’s Big Night

by Rev. Bob Gibbs, retired clergy and Trinity Network Member for Nehemiah Action

On the evening of April 16, Capital Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) held its 3rd annual Nehemiah Action at the Old West Florida Enrichment Center in Tallahassee.  This event, supported by 20 local congregations and faith groups in the area, is patterned after the biblical account of the prophet Nehemiah gathering the people to publicly confront the leaders of Israel who were not fulfilling their responsibilities to lead and care for the people.  CAJM brings people together in house meetings, researches local issues, meets with local officials individually, all in preparation for a Nehemiah Action at which we ask our officials to answer particular questions that relate to helping solve these issues in front of a large group of their constituents.  This year we again are addressing the problems of gun violence in our community and the lack of affordable rental housing for the lowest income folks in our area.  

On Tuesday night nearly 800 community members gathered in person and virtually to hear how our officials would respond to our concerns and to specific positive steps toward remedying these two problem areas.  On the issue of gun violence interruption, the group heard from Royle King, Director of the Council on Men and Boys, who told of their program that includes inter-agency cooperation and assistance from the Criminal Justice Department at FSU.  When asked, he committed to reducing the number of gun related deaths in our community by at least 10%.  Then City Commissioner Curtis Richardson was brought before the group and asked if he would bring a proposal before the City Council to ensure funding for this program.  The ask was for $1 million a year for 5 years.  Com. Richardson said that he would support the funding if Director King would request the funds from the city commission.

The spotlight then turned to affordable housing.  Because CAJM felt the need to include both city and county commissions in approaching the need for low cost rental housing, all members of both commissions were invited to attend.  Unfortunately, some chose, even at the last minute, not to attend.  Absent on Tuesday evening were Mayor Dailey, City Commissioner Diane Williams-Cox, and County Commissioners Cummings, Caban, Maddox and Welch.  In the interest of time we did not question all of the commissioners present.  The decision was made to bring City Commissioner Richardson and County Commissioner Procter on stage to answer three questions on housing.  The other commissioners were given the opportunity to stand to indicate a “yes” answer to the questions.  Question number one asked if they would support establishing a very low income affordable rental housing land purchase and leaseback program.  This would give the incentives necessary for developers to include low cost rentals in their developments.  A program such as this has been successful in Pinellas County and been in effect for 9 years.  Com. Richardson in effect said “no,” until he could learn more about the Pinellas model.  Com. Proctor and all the other commissioners said “yes.”  That brought great cheers from the crowd.  The second question asked if they would support amending the Blueprint Infra-structure Interlocal Agreement for a project on affordable rental housing.  All said yes to this one.  (On February 29 at the Blueprint Budget meeting they had all voted yes, as well.)  The third question was asked in order to find more funding for affordable rental housing.  The question was, if they would support using some of the money that the city and county receive from Blueprint for their infrastructure needs for affordable rental housing.  Com. Richardson said “no” because he felt all of the money was already committed.  Com. Minor could not say “yes” until he was sure that all other projects on the table were funded.  All the other commissioners said “yes,” another cause for cheering from the crowd.  

The leaders of CAJM all felt that it was a successful night.  Yes answers were received from most of the officials who attended and the door continues to be open for more positive action on alleviating gun violence and providing affordable rental housing in our community.  The work of justice continues.