Mayoral candidates address gentrification


Robert Alston, left, a candidate for mayor of Rocky Mount, answers a question as fellow candidate Sandy Roberson listens on Thursday during the Kiwanis Club mayoral issues debate at Benvenue Country Club.


Staff Writer

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Three candidates seeking to be Rocky Mount’s next chief executive faced extensive questions Thursday during a debate at Benvenue Country Club.

One of them included what they would do about the threat of gentrification that low-income and African-American communities feel is happening in and around the city.

Gentrification is a reference to repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area, followed by an influx of middle-class or affluent people that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.

Robert Lee Alston, Kevin Jones and Sandy Roberson participated in the debate.

Roberson, who was asked first to respond to the question about gentrification, said although it is an issue elsewhere — for example, San Francisco — he has not yet seen it to be an issue locally.

“What I see are a lot of communities where blight is persistent, where houses are boarded up,” Roberson said. “And I think what we need to do is we need to start providing — fixing those houses up to be able to provide affordable housing.

“As it relates to gentrification, I do believe, firmly, that a workforce needs to have a place to live,” he said. “I think it needs to be affordable.”

Roberson said he believes there are many plans and processes Rocky Mount can borrow from other communities to make sure there are mixed-income neighborhoods.

He said he knows the Peacemakers Christian organization is working on such an initiative in South Rocky Mount modeled after a successful experience in Atlanta.

Jones, who was asked next to respond, said as mayor he would not feel comfortable being the effective arbiter of what gentrification is and looks like.

At the same time, Jones said, there are feelings and legitimate concerns in these communities that are being affected.

Noting the baby boomer generation is getting older, Jones said he believes there needs to be education, information and systems in place.

Jones said he wants to make sure they can age in place and are not priced out when they have been in communities through the worst of times and the best starts to happen.

He noted he is on the board of Peacemakers and went to Atlanta to look at a community, but he emphasized what he sees as a need to be cautious about getting carbon copies of what other cities are doing.

Rather, he said he believes something needs to be done to fit the context of Rocky Mount’s needs.

Alston said, “I would just say that we need to have affordable housing” based on the economics of the city.