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Tallahassee demands affordable housing from City Commission

By staff

Tallahassee, FL – On January 13, activists with the Tallahassee Community Action Committee attended the Tallahassee City Commission’s annual retreat. While much of the retreat featured city leaders applauding each other for their great work, there were some moments that touched on the people’s concerns regarding affordable housing and redevelopment initiatives on the majority-Black Southside.

After a discussion of the city’s efforts to invest in Southside, the newly-elected Democratic Socialists of America-backed commissioner Jack Porter asked for clarification as to why the Southside of Tallahassee has been so long neglected by the city of Tallahassee. “What is the assessment of why the desired impact on the Southside has not been achieved in these 20 years with plans? Is it that there was something wrong with the plan? Did we not invest the way we needed to? Or the follow up or the implementation?” Porter added, “I agree with Commissioner Matlow, we’ve got to identify where the breakdown was if we’re going to move forward, which we all agree we need to.”

When City Manager Reese Goad began to offer Porter an answer, Commissioner Dianne Williams Cox, one of two Black people on the Commission cut Goad off saying, “City Manager, I don’t want you to get in trouble, because you got to tell the truth. And the truth is not a nice answer like I know you want to give.”

Commissioner Williams Cox then proceeded to offer a lengthy explanation of how the city has neglected Southside. Although she declared, “In order to fix this, we’ve got to expose it,” and that some people may not find her answer to be “politically correct,” the closest Williams Cox came to naming the actual cause of neglect was, “Because the people who live in, the demographic in that area may not have been looked upon as favorably as others.” Rather than naming and exposing city-level institutional white supremacy, Commissioner Williams Cox seemed almost more interested in jockeying for a position as leader of the city’s efforts to invest in Southside.

It took until the public comment portion of the retreat for someone to ‘expose’ anti-Black discrimination as the reason for the city’s neglect of Southside. Whitfield Leland was first up to bat during the public comment period, and knocked the ball out of the park. Responding directly to Commissioner Porter’s initial question, Leland offered a much shorter and more accurate explanation. “The reason why it didn’t happen with this action plan is because we were Black.”

Leland went on to address affordable housing, which is a major crisis in Tallahassee, and one that many civilians offered public comments about, telling the commissioners they, “need to start seeing housing as a public health issue and a public safety issue,” and that they “should be addressing the root of poverty.” “What is the cause of poverty?” Leland asked. “Lack of access to healthcare, employment, the absence of social services, race discrimination, poor infrastructure, and government corruption,” adding, “We have to prioritize the basic needs and infrastructure people need to survive and strive more than prioritizing convention centers and parking lots.”

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