Mayor Greg Fischer’s office and the Louisville Metro Housing Authority plan to apply for a $500,000 federal grant to demolish the largest remaining public housing complex in the city.
The preliminary plan for Beecher Terrace has the support of one west Louisville community group as a way to economically improve the area, but an affordable housing advocate argues that the plan puts real estate over improving quality neighborhoods for the poor.
Some Beecher Terrace residents tell WFPL that investment in the complex would help improve the area—not destroying it.
Sherman Lee said Beecher Terrace, his home since the 1960s, doesn’t need to be demolished.
“As far as the young people, they need something to do,” Lee said. “As far as the old people, they need jobs in here so they can take care of families—maybe they can get up out of here.”
As WDRB’s Marcus Green first reported, the attempt to raze the 70-year-old complex is part of Fischer’s overall vision to tear down the city’s historic Ninth Street Divide.
“This is a critical piece of solving these historic problems,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, Fischer’s deputy chief of staff and the city’s chief of strategic initiatives.
Removing Beecher Terrace, along with a planned westward expansion of Waterfront Park and the proposed extension of River Road, is a “holistic solution” for improving the area near 9th Street, Wiederwohl said.
The mayor’s office and the housing authority will seek federal funds through the Obama administration’s Choice Neighborhoods grant program, which is open to government and private companies to apply.
Economic Growth for Russell?
For more than 20 years, Louisville has strategically eliminated barrack-styled housing projects and replaced them with mixed-income units.
Advocates herald the destruction of former housing projects such as Cotter and Lang, Clarksdale and Sheppard Square through the federal HOPE VI as a needed step to tear down obsolete housing, improve residents’ lives and provide economic development in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re always concerned about conditions in which families in our community are forced to reside,” said Kevin Fields, chief operation officer of Louisville Central Community Centers Inc., a non-profit social service group in the Russell neighborhood.
“In order to be in Beecher Terrace you have to be of a low-income status and therefore you’re forced to live in housing conditions that are sometimes very deplorable.”
LCCC is headquartered at 13th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard—across the street from Beecher Terrace. Fields said LCCC supports the city’s move to demolish the housing project and is collaborating with the housing authority on the grant application.
During a local leadership summit in March, LCCC outlined its vision for west Louisville that identified several assets in the immediate downtown and West End area, including the African-American Heritage Center, Western Library and Central High School.
In its vision, LCCC said Beecher Terrace is a barrier to the type of economic development that took place in east downtown areas after Clarksdale gave way to the Liberty Green development.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth on the east side of downtown and the business district has sprawled eastward, but it refuses to go westward because of what happens at Ninth Street,” Fields said.
The median household income in the Beecher Terrace area is about $8,600 annually, according to U.S. Census data. Residents in the complex have a 41 percent unemployment rate, and almost 85 percent of residents are living in poverty.
Affordable housing advocates argue that the time is wrong for policymakers to consider razing the city’s largest remaining housing complex.
“We never replaced Cotter and Lang, we haven’t replaced Iroquois, and we have a thousand fewer public housing units than have ever had for families,” said Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition.
Hinko said the housing authority hasn’t restored all of the pubic housing units lost from the Sheppard Square demolition that took place last year.
“This is not the moment in time to put even more pressure on families as a whole throughout Metropolitan Louisville and the loss of that subsidy to thousands of families is something beyond the neighborhood,” she said.
‘Why Not Invest?’
On Wednesday, Jesse Hall, 26, was helping a family member into her Beecher Terrace apartment. He also lives in Beecher Terrace—he’s lived there his whole life.
He said demolishing Beecher Terrace will not help improve the area.
“Why not invest in it and make it bigger and better?” Hall said. ”Don’t tear it down, if you tear it down all it’s going to do is start a riot.”
Hall said Beecher Terrace has become home for others who couldn’t afford or didn’t qualify to live in the renovated mixed-income units found in Sheppard Square and Clarksdale.
Tearing Beecher Terrace down would force some residents out on the streets or to another low-income housing project, he said.
“Which will be more people crowded, and there’s going to be more deaths,” he said. ”It doesn’t make any sense.”
Beecher Terrace could be improved by adding green spaces, water features and organizing activities that can engage all residents, he said.
Hinko said a move to demolish Beecher Terrace wouldn’t be about improving the lives of public housing complex’s residents.
“In fact, what it says is you who live in Beecher Terrace, ‘Boy, this would be a better place if only you would move out of the neighborhood and get some other people into this neighborhood,’” Hinko said.
The city’s application is due in August. Housing officials have said they plan to meet with residents to discuss the plan sometime next month.