Creating a Block Association: Knowing Your Neighbors

“The benefit of forming a block association is that you build stronger relationships with your neighbors,” Natalia Ioffe told me over coffee and panettone. “You’re no longer just one family, one person. You can achieve much greater success together. When you have an association, you have a stronger voice if you have to deal with quality of life issues or crime because you’re dealing with these issues together.

“Ultimately we wanted to clean our block up – but we also want to take care of our neighbors, to work together. We have people who don’t speak English, others who don’t use email… So what happens if their sewer overflows? (We live in an area below sea level. Sewer back ups are common.) They don’t know to call the Department of Public Works – they just assume that’s how it’s supposed to be. But then your neighbor in the block association tells you that you can report a backed up sewer on See Click Fix, and someone from the city will come by and fix it. Little by little things change. Suddenly there’s a voice in the neighborhood. And it’s not just the annoying lady on the corner – it’s the whole neighborhood.

“I didn’t know about the possibility of block associations until I met Sandra Lovely. She gave us great advice. She taught us about the things to watch out for, and gave us instructions on how to approach problems. For example – and this is just an example because we don’t have drug dealing neighbors – but if we did, we would approach that problem through the block association as opposed to confronting it head on. It’s a gentle notice – it’s sent by mail, and it lets that neighbor know that the association is aware of what’s going on, and that we’re concerned about it.

“We were lucky enough to attend a workshop with Ms. Lovely where she educated small groups like ours on the registration requirements for a Jersey City Neighborhood Block Association. And then we got the application from the Resident Response Center in City Hall. It was pretty easy, actually.

“The application asks for 15 signatures, so you walk around and tell the neighbors what you’re trying to do. That was easy too – as soon as I brought the idea of the block association to their attention, they were like ‘YES! You go! Go ahead and file those papers! Where do I sign?’

“And then you detail your concerns on the application. We had a couple of concerns that ranged from quality of life to crime.

“Those quality of life concerns would be things like parking, or litter. Those are connected because if the cars are parked (and no one is ticketing), then the street sweeper can’t come, which means the litter piles up.

“Graffiti was also a problem. We’d wake up and our door would be graffiti’d. One time, there was a guy who using drugs who dropped something right across the street – I called the police and made a report… And week later I get graffitied. I was worried it was retaliation.

“Also our car was stripped for parts. That happened at 5 in the morning. They pulled up and stripped the entire face of our car. They took specifically what they wanted – one headlight, not two, and a hood – I’ve never seen anyone take a hood before…

“We also had crime related concerns, which were primarily drug related. For example, there might be a person sitting under my bedroom window, and start shooting up with a needle.

“I have kids, the man across the street has kids smaller than mine, and there’s a couple who have a baby too. The drugs were right out in public – people were smoking substances right out in the daylight. It was impossible to ignore it.

“And we know that these concerns are all sort of part of life concerns, but one of the things that we can do as a neighborhood is come together. As soon as we form an association, we get identifying signs, which we can put on the lightposts, on the windows, wherever – but at the very least, we’re making it clear that we’re watching and that we care.

“Whatever happens, when we have an association, we know and care about our neighbors. We can explain the things that come up – whether it’s a parking issue or whatever it is. We’re not just isolated families in an industrial area. We’re a whole neighborhood.”

The Center Street Block Association received their congratulatory letter of official registration from the City of Jersey City on March 28, 2017.

Interested in forming your own Block Association? Applications are available at the Resident Response Center in City Hall. Call 201-547-4900 for more information.

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Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

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