The Community of the Heights in Petersburg, Virginia is historically a black neighborhood once known for its wealth. Heights was once a community of middle-class professionals where homeownership and economic stability were the norm. Over time, however, Heights experienced the same investment loss cycle that often poisoned colored neighborhoods. Eventually, home ownership fell into decay, leading to the destruction and erasure of decades of history and culture in a community that was once vibrant. The Virginia Environmental Justice Cooperation (VEJC) intends to break this cycle of erasure by historic preservation of the United Nations Beaux-Twenty Club (USO), home to its Heights Resilience Center. On December 10, 2020, the site was recommended and officially recognized as eligible on the Virginia Register of Historic Places.
Partnership For The Sustainable Petersburg
The partnership for a sustainable Petersburg is represented in Petersburg's historic colorful urban community, in the Virginia region. Most of the city of Petersburg is located in a floodplain and suffers from water problems due to clogged sewage, ruptured water supply networks and floods caused by sudden torrential rains. Over the past few years, many “boil water” warnings have been issued. Residents are alarmed and do not know where to turn.
VEJC brought in community members to learn more valuable uses of space. Also involved in the project is Tamika Green, a resident of Heights. “The hub will provide heating and cooling to residents during power outages, and provide training for residents to enter or return to the workforce. A food pantry/soup kitchen is also needed by our community, and this center can serve as a place for our residents as well.”
VEJC is also active in advocacy and has developed successful partnerships with the Petersburg City Council, as well as with other local community organizations that support the need for the center. A lot of the support is through peer learning, capacity building and technical assistance provided by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PRC) to VEJC has helped these efforts.
Due to the socio-economic conditions, the community does not have access to significant political
power and financial resources. Although the city council and Mayor are predominantly African American, The Heights is overlooked and allowed to plunge into an economically depressed state. In "Heights" there is a surplus of empty buildings and lots. The rest of The Heights' residents are mostly seniors and have strong intergenerational ties to the community. It is an asset and a resource on which the resiliency project will be built; families who care for and yearn for their favorite area. In addition, the Governor of Virginia issued Executive Order 24, which talks about making Virginia more resilient to sea level rise and includes plans to reduce flood risk at the community level. Although the city of Petersburg is not coastal, it still poses a serious flood hazard. The risk is compounded by the number of vacant homes and low-income housing. The residents of The Heights, along with neighboring communities, do not have shelter and no access to evacuation; have poor drainage fields in the event of man-made or natural disasters.
Impact of Partnership for Community Resiliency Hub in Petersburg
This partnership will transform the historic building known as the Beaux Twenty into a solar resilience hub. The Beaux Twenty, recently donated to United Parents Against Lead (UPAL), was once used as a deployment site for the US Colored Army troops in the city. This building is located in the heart of the Heights area and on Byrne Street. VEJC, in partnership with UPAL, is uniquely located for the successful implementation of this project, building on past relationships with the city of Petersburg as a capacity building opportunity for the residents. Since 2004 UPAL has been actively working in Petersburg to implement the draft HUD-funded Lead Action Plan, which resulted in the testing and renovation of 80 houses. In addition, UPAL has collaborated with many community partners throughout the city.
Now that state status has been approved and the quest for national recognition continues, the VEJC team is working hard despite COVID delays to complete the center and open it up for business. After additional stabilization of the ballroom, roof and interior of the building, and solar installation, Shabazz is expected to be completed in the middle of the year.