HOUSING BY THE NUMBERS The U.S. Census Bureau recently released the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, which showed that 15 percent of the Escambia County’s 138,000 housing units were vacant. Of those occupied housing units, 79,000 (67 percent) were owner occupied and 39,000 (33 percent) were renter occupied.
Seven percent of the households did not have telephone service and eight percent of the households did not have access to a car, truck or van for private use. Multi-vehicle households were not rare. Thirty-nine percent had two vehicles and another 16 percent had three or more. The report didn’t say whether the vehicles ran or not.
The median monthly housing costs for mortgaged owners was $1,207, for non-mortgaged owners $362, and for renters $802. Thirty-eight percent of the homeowners had mortgages, 14 percent of the owners were without mortgages, and 55 percent of the renters in Escambia County spent 30 percent or more of their household income on housing.
RESPONDING TO STREET VIOLENCE The Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce (GCAACC) is taking the lead in developing a community strategy to help address issues within our community that may have led to the major increase in violent crime and gang activity.
The initiative is called the P.A.T.H. (Providing Avenues To Hope) Program Initiative. The GCAACC is currently organizing a community stakeholders meeting to unveil in late January a strategic implementation plan that employs the best practices of successful crime/gang reduction programs from across the nation.
According to George Hawthorne, GCAACC executive director, the initiative is designed to reduce gang crime in targeted neighborhoods by incorporating research-based interventions to address individual, family and community factors that contribute to violent crime, juvenile delinquency and gang activity. The program will leverage local, state and federal resources in support of community partnerships that implement progressive practices in violence prevention, intervention, suppression and reentry.
The community stakeholders invited to the meeting include Escambia/Pensacola law enforcement, UWF, Escambia County School District, Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, juvenile justice officials, church leaders, social service agencies, civic organizations, Escambia/Pensacola elected officials, community/neighborhood leaders, and corporate leaders.
Also, Hawthorne plans to announce at the meeting the acquisition and development of a “one-stop” facility that will become the headquarters for P.A.T.H. Rumors are that the facility may be part of the old Brownsville Middle School campus, with Habitat for Humanity buying some of the school acreage for a housing project.
SELECTIVE MEMORY Escambia County Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas has been telling community leaders that four Escambia County high schools scored well enough in 2010 to be “A” schools. They aren’t, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to call them that. He blames the new grading system that “penalized” his schools because all the students didn’t make adequate yearly progress.
It’s sort of like when your teenager comes home and tells you that he would have made an A if they didn’t have to take all of the test….just the parts they wanted to take.
Well, the rest of the state likes the new scoring system. The Orlando Sentinel reported high school grades had jumped dramatically last year, producing a record number of A and B schools. Of the hundreds of high schools statewide that improved their grade under the state’s new formula, about half would have seen no change at all under the old system. Only 22 schools statewide fared worse with the new method than they would have with the old one.
Of those 22 high schools that fared worse, two–Pine Forest and Escambia–are in Escambia County. They dropped from C’s to D’s.
For the record, Escambia County has seven public high schools. Two are D’s and four are B’s. West Florida High is the only A school, if you count all sections of the grading system.
GOOD YEAR AHEAD FOR ECAT? The Florida Public Transportation Association, the nonprofit association that promotes public transit, reports that some experts are predicting Americans could be paying $5 per gallon of gasoline by 2012. The last time gasoline in Florida reached $4 per gallon, nearly every transit system in the state reported record ridership.
Wes Watson, Executive Director of the Florida Public Transportation Association said, “People know they can save a lot of money when they choose to take public transportation to work instead of driving alone. In 2008, we as an industry found out that $4 per gallon tends to be a tipping point, where large numbers of Floridians start taking the bus or train to work.”
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reported in December that riding public transportation saves individuals an average $9,581 annually.
Mr. Watson expressed concern whether transit agencies that have had their budgets cut in recent years will be able to keep up with expected demand. He said, “Public transportation infrastructure is essential to getting people to work, yet about 80 percent of transit agencies nationally have raised fares or cut service during the recession. Now that gas is rising again and the population of Florida is growing again, it’s time to make sound investment in public transportation…the last thing the workforce needs is more transit budget and service cuts.”
The Escambia County Commission and the City of Pensacola have debated permanent funding sources for Escambia County Transit Authority (ECAT) for the past four years without working one out. Expect the topic to come back up for discussion if gasoline prices continue to climb.