Young working to build better communities

Published 11:05 am Monday, October 17, 2016

Over the years, Gertrude Young has worn many hats — many of them in city government.

The city of Vicksburg’s housing director has been an election commissioner for the city and county and served as the city’s North Ward alderwoman from 1993 to 2001.

She has a background as a nurse and is the associate minister at Mount Carmel M.B. Church. She has also worked as a realtor.

“I’ve always loved being involved with politics since I was 14,” Young said. “I’ve served as alderwoman in three administrations, Joe Loviza, Robert Walker and Laurence Leyens.

It was that involvement in politics plus her background in real estate that got her interested in the city’s housing department, which helps people be able to buy their first home and help them with the repairs to help the elderly and handicapped remain in their homes.

“Leona Stringer retired, and Beatrice Moore was no longer there. I applied for the position and was hired,” she said. “We’ve taken it to a whole new level. We still help the first-time home buyers, but we’re also making a greater effort to assist people with repairing their homes.”

Young said the push to help people with housing comes from her experience responding to calls for help from neighbors and city inspectors.

“We had a lady living in a house with her son and they hadn’t had electricity since February of 2015,” she said. “We were told about it by one of the building inspectors. We were able to get her lights back on, and we’re working to help get her house repaired.”

Another home, she said, had a family where the parents and child were all disabled.

“The roof had caved in on one side and the kitchen had been damaged by fire. The child was sleeping in the living room.”

She said workers with Service Over Self fixed the roof, and did other work to make the house more livable, adding more work will be done.

“I’ve been in houses in the city where you can stand in a room and look up and see the sky through a hole in the roof,” she said.

Since becoming housing director in 2014, Young said, the housing department has worked to help start a community garden to teach first-time home buyers and their children to learn to grow vegetables and flowers for their homes.

The housing department also began a program called “My Brother’s Keeper,” to assist low-income elderly and disabled residents with home repairs and getting the building materials to make the repairs.

The department has also worked with AmeriCorps through a grant program through that agency to fix and repair 11 homes in the city.

The program received a $175,000 Special Needs Assistance Program, or SNAP, grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas to pay up to $5,000 each for work on 18 homes in town.

“We have plans for a home grant development neighborhood in Marcus Bottom and have applied for a $180,000 Affordable Housing Program grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas,” she said. “We’re targeting Marcus Bottom and redoing 25 homes — the roofs, air conditioning, elevating the homes and painting them, whatever is needed at $8,000 per home and people will not have to pay it back.”

She said the housing department is also working with landlords owning homes in Marcus Bottom to help fix up homes to be sold.

The department is also working with the Heritage Guild to improve the neighborhoods about Bowmar Elementary and the Vicksburg Warren School District’s Academy of Innovation at the Grove Street School.

“Bowmar and the Academy of Innovation are wonderful programs, but the neighborhoods they’re in are not inviting to parents of the children going there,” she said. “We want to work with the Heritage Guild to improve those neighborhoods and clean up the 5-Star (convenience store on Bowmar) and get its owners to improve the property.”
Young said another project involves renovations to the home of Dr. Jane McAllister of Vicksburg.

The department is working with building owner Yolande Robbins and Jackson State University to preserve the home.

“Jane McAllister was the first black woman to get a PhD. from Columbia (University), and one of the first women to get a PhD. in the country,” she said.

Besides her work with the city, Young is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which has been working on voter registration, holding programs at the Vicksburg Mall and other locations in town like Corner Market.

She said she enjoys working with the building and housing programs that will help people have safe places to live.

“We want to make a commitment to help people and work with organizations that want to help repair homes, and its wonderful when you can see the fruit (of the work).

“It’s sad when you find people who are living in such poor conditions, and you want to try and help them. We get a lot of help with improving homes through groups liked the Randy Naylor Foundation and SOS. SOS worked on 15 homes in the summer.

“I’m just trying to do what I can and do whatever the good Lord allows me to do.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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