Neighbors in action: The anatomy of a comeback
When Dorothy Skorupa decided to take the elementary school kids at F Street Community Center for a walk one day, she was only hoping the fresh air and nice weather would do them some good.
Skorupa, the director at F Street, and the children in the community center’s after-school program walked from the center on the corner of F and 13th streets through the neighborhood of Everett.
They walked past the old buildings and houses, some of which were built nearly 100 years ago. Past the commercial district on 11th Street, where bustling businesses such as daVinci’s and Cultiva are located. They walked under the awning that once read, “Klein’s Corner,” but now reads, “Esquina de los Hispanos,” or Hispanic Corner, where Hispanic business owners have opened a grocery store, a bakery and other shops.
They heard the different languages and saw the different faces that spoke them.
They saw poverty in the condition of some houses and the scattered trash.
The scene was nothing new for Skorupa and the kids of Everett.
But about halfway through the walk, something unexpected happened. The kids spontaneously started picking up trash. A delighted Skorupa walked the children back to the community center to get gloves before going right back out to continue the pick up.
Skorupa said the kids can’t do anything about poverty and run-down houses in Everett, but they can do what they can to make the neighborhood nicer.
“You can be poor, but you can also be proud,” Skorupa said. “Some of them are getting it.”
Video: The F Street Community Center plays a major role in Lincoln’s Everett neighborhood
Video by Ben Malotte and Sarah Hoelting
Like any urban neighborhood in the United States that deals with a diverse population and poverty, Everett leaders must wrestle with the issues that come with it.
But just as the children had discovered, it’s often the little things that make a big difference. And it’s the people on the ground – the residents — who are the ones making an impact.
For Everett, the small efforts of people who live in the neighborhood finally seem to be paying off in big ways. The neighborhood is turning the corner.
- Crime is down.
- The business district is bustling with a variety of stores and restaurants.
- A vacant property ordinance seems to be having an effect.
- Neighborhood enhancements, like street lights and beautification, are underway.
To be sure, pushing ahead can be a challenge in a neighborhood like Everett, which has a diverse mix of residents who span differing cultures, languages, ages and incomes. But rather than allowing diversity to be an excuse for not moving forward, Everett neighborhood leaders say they embrace it.
“Diverse neighborhoods with low-income poverty come with a set of problems,” said Pat Anderson, vice president of the Everett Neighborhood Association. “But I think in a diverse community comes a lot of strengths. It’s more what the world looks like.”
Everett leaders fully admit that the makeup of the neighborhood association does not reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. That isn’t for lack of trying, said Anderson and President Matt Schaefer. They have found it a difficult task in a low-income neighborhood with a high proportion of renters.
“It’s not unusual for people struggling to pay rent and working multiple jobs to not see attending meetings as a priority,” Anderson said.
Keeping residents engaged and informed
Nevertheless, the neighborhood association seeks to inform and get the opinions of Everett’s different populations on issues. Events such as Streets Alive!, the Everett Festival and neighborhood clean ups have been successful at bringing the people of Everett together and making them more active in the community. Also, the neighborhood association’s Facebook page and quarterly newsletter have kept the people of Everett informed.
Anderson understands the neighborhood — she’s lived there since the 1970s when she was a college student – and she understands the commitment that is needed for a volunteer organization to tackle big problems. Everett was the only one of Lincoln’s oldest neighborhoods not to be organized when she helped establish the neighborhood association in 1986.
Many in the neighborhood, however, have reaped the rewards of the association’s hard work and are enjoying the neighborhood’s recent renaissance.
And the first little thing that the association focused on was the neighborhood’s appearance.
“Do you know what the broken window theory is?” Anderson asked. “I always tell people it starts with the litter, then the overgrown grass, then it’s the porch that doesn’t get fixed, then it’s a broken window that doesn’t get fixed.”
The neighborhood association actively works with landlords, the Lincoln Police Department and the Lincoln City Council to make sure the appearance of the neighborhood continues to improve.
When the overall condition of the neighborhood buildings start to decline, the people who care about Everett begin to wonder where the neighborhood is heading. This leads to stakeholders leaving the neighborhood and instability, which results in higher crime and more unrest.
Both Anderson and Schaefer talked about the importance of good landlords in a neighborhood such as Everett.
“We do more work with landlords and we always have,” Anderson said. “We pretty much always have landlords on our board.”
Anderson and Schaefer said there are many good landlords in Everett who are working to make the neighborhood better. It is just the few bad ones who can cause problems for everyone.
“What usually happens is someone buys a property and thinks they are going to make a bunch of money renting it,” Schaefer said. “Maybe they start to renovate it and find some problems they weren’t anticipating, then they run out of money.”
When problems start to pile up with a property, it can snowball in a hurry, and the result is abandoned, unkempt buildings.
Being proactive about vacant properties
Schaefer also pointed to the broken window theory, noting that if the outward appearance of a building goes down so far, the whole street suffers.
“As you can imagine, they’re kind of an attractive nuisance for crime and they just look terrible,” he said.
The problems that occur from the vacant and unkempt properties in Everett led the neighborhood association to work with the city council on a vacant property ordinance.
In August, the city council adopted tougher penalties and a better system of dealing with property owners who do not take care of their properties. The Registration of Neglected Buildings ordinance established a system of penalties and fees for vacant and deteriorating properties, which can add up to $4,000 a year. This ordinance will help deal with problem properties in Everett and will have a positive impact on the community.
“We do all this work not only to build up and maintain the physical environment but also the community environment, so whatever physical improvements we make will be sustained,” Anderson said. “Physical improvements help sustain community and vice versa.”
The association also hosts two clean ups each year where volunteers pick up trash in the neighborhood and administer drop off spots for household appliances, tires and any other trash that needs to be taken from the neighborhood.
The leaders of Everett stress the importance of the physical condition of the neighborhood because of the issues that are caused by a lack of care, such as crime.
Crime is an issue in many urban neighborhoods in the United States, and Everett is no exception. But most crime in Everett has gone down over the last several years, according to police records for 1995-2013. And major crimes aren’t the only types decreasing. Although reports of vandalism crept up very slightly from 178 in 2012 to 182 in 2013, they have been declining fairly consistently since the all-time high of 307 in 2005.
The work of community leaders such as Anderson, Schaefer and Skorupa, and a larger Lincoln police presence in the neighborhood, have been major contributors to this decline.
The Lincoln Police Department has a substation in the F Street Community Center, and police cars are always parked next to it on 13th Street, something Anderson, Schaefer and Skorupa say has helped with crime.
Other work the leaders of Everett have done to help fight crime is hosting events to bring people in the neighborhood together.
The recent Neighbor’s Night Out event, sponsored by Target and put on by the Lincoln Police Department, allowed people to get to know their neighbors and Everett’s police officers, Skorupa said. This allows people to recognize strangers in the neighborhood and encourages residents to speak up about suspicious activity.
“We work a lot with landlords and police to organize neighborhood watches to make sure things are calmed down and stay that way,” Anderson said.
A major project the neighborhood association worked to fight crime in the neighborhood was the installation of streetlights, which was something the people of Everett made clear they wanted.
With its relatively low cost of living and the proximity to downtown and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln city campus, Everett is an attractive place to live for people from all walks of life, including college students and people who work downtown. Because many people walk and bike to work, school and to shop, installing streetlights is a good way of promoting safety and preventing crime.
The installation of lights has yet to be finished. Setbacks, such as weather and construction problems have delayed the project, which started two years ago.
Regardless, the perception of Everett is changing for the better. Everett’s leaders are proud of the decline in crime and with how the diverse community continues to work together to make Everett better.
“We used to be on the news a lot,” Skorupa said. “Whenever there was a crime here, the news would show the F and 13th streets sign, and that’s changed. The stigma about F Street has changed.”
Anderson echoed Skorupa’s thoughts about the perception of Everett. She said perceptions of the neighborhood were based on what people heard on the 10 o’clock news, which she said didn’t describe Everett.
A compassionate and dynamic neighborhood
As one of Lincoln’s oldest and most diverse neighborhoods, Everett has a lot to offer, the leaders say. Diversity is one of Everett’s biggest assets and is a part of what draws people to it.
“I work in a lot of areas in Lincoln and rarely see so many people so compassionate and accepting of others,” Anderson said.
“The elementary school and the F Street community center are tremendous draws that act as melting pots,” Schaefer said. “Especially for kids who just want to be kids.”
Schaefer moved to the neighborhood in 2011 while attending law school. After school, he stayed because he liked the historic character of the houses in Everett and the short walk to work in downtown Lincoln.
“I think the perception of the neighborhood is that it’s a dangerous place to live. I don’t think it is,” he said. “Certainly it’s not for everyone. Certainly it’s more dynamic, active and interesting than your average Lincoln neighborhood.”