A new community assessment report about Charleston’s West Side may shed light on residents’ needs — a subject where the questions usually outnumber the answers.
The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation on Tuesday released an 80-page community needs assessment report, conducted by the Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action (KISRA).
A handful of volunteers went door-to-door to nearly 900 West Side households last year asking residents within the area surrounding Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School to complete surveys that inquired about respondents’ health, education, employment, housing and community involvement. It also included open-ended questions to gauge what residents enjoy most about the West Side and where the most improvement is needed.
While some key findings were predictable, others were unforeseen.
For example, more than half of the survey participants rent their homes — but nearly 70 percent of those renters don’t receive any housing assistance from HUD or the state. According to census estimates, three-quarters of home renters in the survey area earned less than $25,000 in household income over the past year. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that one-third of respondents said more than half of their net household income goes toward housing costs.
Carl Chadband, chief operating officer of KISRA, pointed out the challenges that arise when residents must balance high housing costs with other necessities.
“Folks are spending so much money on their housing, how can you expect them to eat healthy food? It’s going to cut into their availability of fresh produce.”
But Chadband said he found that the open-ended questions produced the most notable results. The report used word clouds to show what answers were given most frequently to questions.
The majority of respondents said the West Side’s children need more after-school programs above all else. Others suggested tearing down vacant buildings and converting more lots into green spaces for children to play.
Most people also said their favorite thing about the West Side is its convenience, such as its vicinity to the busline, stores and downtown Charleston.
The biggest improvements needed, according to respondents, are increasing crime prevention and police patrol, as well as renovating or tearing down vacant homes…
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