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Gary Leader Says ‘Strong Cities’ Brings Manpower

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January 16, 2014 by Hilary Powell

Housing help and economic relief is headed to Gary, but city officials say they are ready for resources in the form of manpower, not money.

“This isn’t money,” says Richard Leverett, Interim Chief of Staff for Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. “To be clear about this, there is no money involved here. It’s about using support for federal resources, so it’s technical assistance but it’s also a “bat phone”, a direct call to the federal government to say how we should be aligning things and see how we should coordinate resources.”

As of Thursday, the city announced it is now part of President Barack Obama’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative.
The White House chose the Steel City as one of seven new places they will provide expert federal teams to over the next two years to make the area more economically competitive.

“The mayor couldn’t be happier,” Leverett says. “It is a celebration but it is a call to service and call to more work, and that is what we’re looking forward to now. There is a ton of potential there. What the SC2 partnership is about is leveraging that; realizing there are federal dollars out there, but how can the city mobilize and envision, put things together and actually have us access dollars.”

The mayor’s office says this nomination will provide more volunteer boots on the ground in Gary. In addition, the office says they hope this year cities will surpass the previous years’ cities of $368 million dollars in federal resources.”

The top three initiatives on the city’s to-do list are expansion of the Northside Redevelopment Project; work on a proposed medical center in university park; and to form a city database of dilapidated properties.

“What my city needs is more jobs, more business, you know, fix up the homes,” says mill worker and Gary resident Andre Taylor. He says he welcomes help from outside sources if it will help keep jobs inside city limits.

“There are people working in the mill from different cities taking their money to different cities like portage and Valparaiso and stuff like that. We don’t have stores to go to. We have to go to Merrillville to spend our money, so that is how their city grows. We need a place to spend our money here.”

Leverett says community collaboration will be the cornerstone of the mayor’s plans to make the most of the new reserves.

In all, 18 local community groups will work with the mayor’s office under the new program. Leverett says he expects the groups will be seeking input from the community in the coming months.

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