The sound of children laughing outside is proof enough.
"Children are coming out to play again," Elston said. "There's just not as much violence and fighting anymore."
From criminal activity to slow-maintenance complaints, problems that once troubled Anniston's nine public housing communities have decreased significantly in the past year, some residents there say. Officials and some residents credit the changes to new leadership at the Anniston Housing Authority and increased communication with residents who represent the agency's public housing residents.
Elston was one of the Housing Authority's nine-member resident council honored at a luncheon Wednesday at the Carver Community Center for its volunteers’ efforts to improve the living conditions in their communities.
"They've really stepped up to the plate," Willie McMahand, executive director of the Housing Authority, said of the resident council. "They've been involved in a lot of different policies and procedures."
McMahand was hired as executive director a year ago. Since then, he said, he has worked with the council on several changes to improve the city’s public housing, starting with educating residents that they have a voice. He said one of the complaints many residents had in years past was that they did not know who they could complain to or that they had representation through the council to speak on their behalf to the Housing Authority.
"Back in March and April I had mandatory meetings with residents, telling them that they can make a difference," McMahand said. "We wanted to change the face of the authority, to have residents at the table of discussion."
McMahand also helped increase representation for residents with the Board of Commissioners of the Anniston Housing Authority, the agency's governing body. As a result, resident council member Vanessa Williams was appointed to the commissioners board in June, providing a greater voice for public housing residents. The board had previously not had a public housing resident representative.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1999 published a rule mandating housing authorities have a public tenant on their boards of commissioners to comply with federal public housing reform laws.
"I help residents that need that extra help," Williams said. "I'm here to help with any complaints."
Williams said she has noticed improvements among the city's public housing in the past year.
"I've seen that neighborhoods are cleaner and maintenance work is quicker," Williams said. "And residents seem happier."
McMahand said the authority's maintenance team was reorganized earlier this year to better respond to resident complaints. A maintenance person is now on site at each public housing facility every day instead of based in a centralized location.
"That is so response time can be faster," he said.
Other changes through the authority this year included organizing a safety retreat in October, McMahand said.
"We brought in police officers to talk about crime initiatives, to address crime activity," McMahand said.
Alina Wood, president of the resident council the last two years, agreed with her fellow public housing residents that many improvements have been made in the past year.
"There is less complaining now and the police and others are stepping up," said Wood, who lives in the authority’s Fairview Terrace apartments. "Residents are starting to speak up and say things now instead of being afraid."
Anniston City Councilman Seyram Selase, who attended the Wednesday luncheon, said he was happy with the initiatives McMahand had undertaken this year.
"I love that we have a new transitional leader at the Housing Authority," Selase said. "He's doing a wonderful job and he has the full support of the city of Anniston."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.