When leaders of Prince George’s County’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative asked Kentland residents such as Nataki MacMurray in May about problems in her community, she wasted no time in telling them about squatters in vacant homes.
One month later, the houses were boarded up and the tall grass was cut, said MacMurray, one of 140 Palmer Park and Kentland residents who came to the Prince George’s Ballroom in Landover on Tuesday to hear the progress of the initiative, a countywide program that launched in April to target six communities for crime reduction, beautification and social services. The other areas are Langley Park, East Riverdale/Bladensburg, Marlow Heights/Hillcrest Heights, Coral Hills/Suitland and Glassmanor.
“Any time you have an opportunity for neighborhoods to address your concerns with officials that have the ability to address them that’s great,” MacMurray said.
The Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative organizes teams of people representing county agencies such as the police department and the Department of Environmental Resources to address community challenges, said Carla Reid, deputy chief administrative officer for the Office of the County Executive. Issues such as abandoned, vacant properties, truancy and burglary were among the top 10 concerns of Kentland and Palmer Park area residents, Reid said.
Between May 3 and June 11, the Department of Environmental Resources completed 21 inspections based on complaints from residents that mostly dealt with tall grass and abandoned homes, said Clarence Moseley, the special assistant to the associate director in the permits and review division for DER. The county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation completed 13 requests to mow tall grass that was in the county’s right of way, said Liz Miller of the county’s DPWT.
Reid said Public Works will have a schedule to maintain grass cuts but can also respond to requests from residents.
Moseley said there is a unit within DER tasked with contacting banks that own foreclosed properties, warning them to maintain the properties or face citations.
“This initiative has been really good,” said Moseley, who added that the first community meeting in May followed day and nighttime neighborhood tours from county officials. “The people are on fire. I wish we could do more.”
New suggestions that came out of Tuesday’s meeting included creating a volunteer program to help seniors get their houses painted and lawns cut, making a better effort to reach Spanish-speaking residents, and reaching out to apartment and house renters about keeping their property clean.
Reid said the next step is to look into the new complaints and also look into solutions for long-term issues they can solve, such as holding a job fair for unemployed residents. She said more meetings are necessary between TNI members and schools, businesses, nonprofits and utility companies.
Diana Bullock, vice president of the Columbia Park Civic Association, went to the first meeting May 3 and said she is hoping for more results to curtail neighborhood drug activity and county legislation that would get a grip on the number of vacant homes.
“We write the same things over and over again,” Bullock said of the TNI meetings. “They’re doing a good job, but we got a long way to go.”