What does it take to bring improvements to Mulgrave Park? Endless persistence

Elaine Williams isn't the kind of woman who gives up easily. That's especially true when it comes to Mulgrave Park, her beloved community.

She's called the community home for 50 years, raising four sons in the 300-unit public housing complex in north-end Halifax.

Now, after two decades of fundraising, speaking to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and tireless work by Williams and others, more is happening than ever before — and the torch is being passed to the next generation.

"These types of things, they don't happen overnight. And it's about dedication, the willingness, the care that we put into our community and that's what kept us going," she said.

"We didn't expect this long but, it's a good thing to see the changes in housing happening for the better."

Emma Davie/CBC

In 2017, the community received $5 million from the federal and provincial governments to repair retaining walls in the neighbourhood, which sits on a large slope overlooking Halifax harbour.

The province says "high-priority work" has been done on some walls, steps and railings. Williams said units in the community also had heating and electrical problems addressed.

This year, the roofs were fixed on some of the houses, a few new railings installed and a new garbage locker built to prevent people from outside Mulgrave Park dumping trash.

"That always makes you feel good, when you see work being done in your community," Williams said. "It gives us a sense of pride. A lot has been happening and we see a lot more happening in the future for us."

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In an email, the province said another seven sections of railings in the community will be completed over the next two to three months.

No one from the department would do an interview with CBC about Mulgrave Park.

Williams credits the women in the community for all the work that's been done in recent years.

In particular, the Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre was created by a group of "wonderful women" and is now run by a board.

"They are fantastic and strong-willed women that nothing can stop them," Williams said.

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Over the years, she said she grew frustrated by not seeing work happening. She thought about giving up many times.

"But every time I stepped outside my door, I changed my mind," Williams said.

"When I first came here, I thought it was a short-term thing for our family. But I am so glad that it wasn't because there is no better place."

Passing the torch

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Now, some of the work in the community is being picked up by the younger generation.

Williams's son, Jeremy Williams, started Paint the Park three years ago. It began with a single mural of Tyler Richards, the 29-year-old former St. Francis Xavier University basketball star who was shot to death in April 2016.

Paint the Park has since grown into an annual event, where artists from around the world create murals to bring vibrancy to the public housing development.

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Jeremy and his mother say there's still work to be done, including more repairs to the retaining walls.

"They're like 50 years old, they're falling apart at the touch," Jeremy Williams said. "It's a big danger for kids because as a kid growing up here, I used to climb on these walls and now they're literally crumbling."

The province says a condition assessment of the property will determine the priority of additional work on the retaining walls needed to ensure safety.

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But Williams has bigger plans for 2020.

He wants to create a common space for the kids and hopes to raise money for a new basketball court. He said he's already met with former Acadia University player Shaquille Smith, who opened a new NBA-sized court in North Preston this July.

"I was a university athlete and my athleticism came from playing on the courts here and running on the fields here," Williams said, adding that the current court has faced years of neglect.

"I really want to bring that back to our community and help inspire more generations to play sports."

Community stigma

But Williams said he finds there is still a stigma attached to public housing, adding that Mulgrave Park and other communities are often labelled as negative places.

He hopes to bring murals to other communities in Halifax next year.

"We want people coming through our community, seeing the kids, seeing the beautiful people we are and seeing the repair that's needed. Because that's what gets the spotlight shone on us," he said.

Emma Davie/CBC

His mother said she hopes people will open their eyes to how desperately the Halifax region needs more affordable housing.

"That could be the next fight, you never know, is trying to get some more housing for people who really need it," she said.

"Hopefully, someday that will happen. I have hope. You've got to keep your hope."

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