CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the leadership, patience and vision of the Rev. Matthew J. Watts, the founder of HOPE Community Development Corporation, to improve the lives of the residents of Charleston's West Side.
Rev. Watts' organization leads the way in the West Side Revive efforts by focusing on blighted properties in the area known as the New West Side Renewal District.
Inside this district is the Home Ownership Zone, which spans from Patrick Street to Hunt Avenue and from Kanawha Boulevard to Third Avenue. To address the lack of safe, affordable housing, HOPE CDC has accumulated more than 45 properties and, depending on their condition, either torn them down, increasing green space in the area, or beautifully renovated them for immediate use. The renovated homes are sold back to community members at great discounts, increasing home ownership in some of the neighborhoods of the West Side, which is currently home to 40 percent of Charleston's population.
As a part of the broader vision for revitalizing the West Side, Rev. Watts fought hard for the Special Community Development School Pilot Project Program, one promising aspect of Senate Bill 359. This pilot program gives five struggling public schools the opportunity to make innovative changes to improve student academic success. Rev. Watts also continuously tries to improve the "wrap around" services available to these families to give each student the best chance for a positive home life free from drugs and despair.
A critical component of revitalizing Charleston lies in the rejuvenation of the West Side, as Rev. Watts likes to point out. He is right. We can all realize the long-term benefit from having high achieving West Side schools and a safe and economically prosperous West Side community. Rev. Watts is truly a community visionary, with the big picture in mind. His energy and enthusiasm are compelling and we should all be grateful to him for his efforts in bringing back the West Side of Charleston.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is committed to working with Rev. Watts, West Side community members and school leaders, and we urge others to join the efforts. For more information about the HOPE Community Development Corporation, please go to mjwattsministries.com.
Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.