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In A Troubled Part Of Rutland, Survey Shows Residents Are Seeing Improvement

Nina Keck
Eileen Battles has lived on Baxter Street in Rutland since 1963. She says she's been sad to see the neighborhood's decline, but says recent efforts to renovate housing and improve policing are helping.

In Rutland, a survey of residents in a troubled part of the city indicate efforts over the past three years to reduce drug-related crime and revitalize the neighborhood are making a difference.

Three years ago, 230 households in a hard-hit section of northwest Rutland were asked how they felt about their neighborhood, public services and the local police department.

This spring, 205 households in northwest Rutland answered the same questions, according to Shannon Kennelly, an AmeriCorps member working with the local housing agency NeighborWorks of Western Vermont.

Kennelly says results are encouraging.

“I think there’s more positivity this time around," she says. "There’s also that acknowledgement of, 'I know where we’ve come from and what we still have to do, but I think it’s getting better.'” she says.

With regard to the police, Kennelly says the survey asked people to rate local law enforcement on a scale of very good to poor.

“Those numbers have changed incredibly,” she says. “From people saying very poor, poor, and this time the majority of them said good or very good for police. So they feel police are out in the neighborhood and they also feel police are doing a good job. And that’s a real change from last time.”

Eileen Battles, 91, has lived in northwest Rutland since 1963 when she opened a beauty salon on Baxter Street. The neighborhood has declined terribly since then, she says. But she agrees that in the last few years the police are doing a better job.

“I think they’ve improved a lot. We are loaded [down] with this drug problem in this area, but I think it’s going to be better. And the park will help,” she adds.

Battles points to a new playground down the street, and renovation efforts next door on a home that had been an eyesore. Those are signs that things are looking up, she says.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
A former blighted property in northwest Rutland was removed and the lot made into a neighborhood playground.

Both those efforts are part of a city-wide push to create more single-family housing and improve the sense of community in the area.

Down the street at Bedard’s Market, which is right across from the new playground, kids were buying ice cream after school.

Owner Donald Bedard says the street definitely looks better than it did three years ago, and the new playground will be good for young kids.

“As long as somebody maintains it. We have some kids that don’t have no respect for property. We have to keep an eye on those," he says.

Chris Sawyer, 41, has lived in the neighborhood nearly all his life. He says it may be cleaned up a little bit, but the drug deals are still going on, and he wonders how long until the new playground is used by dealers. “Give it about three, four months and I’ll bet you have problems with that," he says.

AmeriCorps worker Shannon Kennelly admits many problems remain for neighbors in this part of Rutland. But she’s also optimistic, and says input from local residents like the data gathered in the two surveys will help NeighborWorks, Project Vision and the city better address what local residents want and what future projects to prioritize.

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