Louisville is expected to receive nearly $30 million from the federal government to kick-start a broad revitalization of the Russell neighborhood.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will serve as a pivotal peg in the plan to spur new economic development and residential infill in the neighborhood currently beset with poverty, blight and crime. It is expected to begin with a plan to demolish the Beecher Terrace housing complex and replace it with mixed-use development.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer will join Congressman John Yarmuth, the head of the city’s housing authority and other city leaders gathered Monday afternoon to announce the award.
“We are ecstatic. This is a huge day not just for Russell, not just for West Louisville, but for our entire city,” Fischer said in a news release. “Being selected by HUD for a Choice implementation grant validates all the hard work and commitment that community leaders, residents, this administration and many other stakeholders have invested over the past two years in efforts to transform and revitalize one of our most historic neighborhoods.”
The federal agency announced the awards via a news release early Monday afternoon. Louisville was announced as a finalist for the highly sought after grant funding earlier this year.
City leaders will use the grant funds to spark a transformation in the historic West Louisville neighborhood into a mixed-use, mixed-income area with dense housing options, retail and the resources communities need to thrive, said Gretchen Milliken, director of the city’s office of advanced planning, in an interview earlier this year.
HUD Secretary Julian Castro called the Choice Neighborhood grant program a “new approach to community revitalization” during a stop in Louisville to announce the initial award of planning funds.
Kevin Fields, the head of Louisville Central Community Centers, said the needs in Russell outweigh the near $30 million award. However, he expects the federal grant to be key leverage in attracting up to $150 million into Russell “over the next several years.”
“Even that amount, it’s hard to say if that will meet the total needs,” he said.
A Celebration on Monday
Jemine Bryon brought the official message from the federal agency on Monday and was greeted by the pounding rhythm of a high school drumline.
She sent the crowd into a raucous ovation when she announced the $29.5 million award. Bryon, the general deputy assistant secretary for HUD, said Russell is the only neighborhood to benefit from all three of the Choice Neighborhood program’s grants.
And she said the funds awarded with this grant are appropriated in full and not subject to any federal policy or program shifts that may come with a new presidential administration.
“It’s a full allocation,” she said.
The work those funds will fuel brought a smile to La’Precious Page’s face. She stood outside the Baxter Community Center Monday afternoon in a heavy jacket as city officials and others shuffled inside to hear the news. She’d come too to hear what would become of Beecher Terrace, her home.
Page, 27, applauds the plan to get rid of the old housing complex. She moved to Beecher Terrace from Shawnee and misses the feel of a neighborhood.
“It just stinks all through here,” she said.
Beyond physical transformation, the place needs a new image, too, she said.
Lamika Jordan agrees.
She’s lived at Beecher Terrace for more than a decade. The sprawling tenement-style housing complex looks rundown and neglected, she said. Its appearance alone attracts unsavory characters, Jordan said.
“Not the best examples for our kids,” she said.
Problems in Russell
Russell stretches west of Ninth Street to 32nd Street and from Broadway north to Market Street. About 62 percent of Russell residents live in poverty and 40 percent live in subsidized housing, according to data provided by HUD.
A 2015 report from Louisville Metro found the occurrence of violent crime is about three times higher in Russell than the rest of the city. The report shows there are 16 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in Russell, compared with 5.8 violent crimes per 1,000 residents across the metro area.
The same report found that Russell residents hold just about 100 of the some 2,500 jobs located within the boundaries of the neighborhood. Nearly 40 percent of Russell residents are unemployed and unable to work, the report found.
Fields said the top priority of the revitalization plan should be to address the barriers to economic redevelopment in Russell and other western Louisville neighborhoods.
Beecher Terrace, the some 70-year-old public housing complex along Ninth Street, is one of those barriers, Fields said. Transforming Beecher Terrace into a mixed income, mixed use area would be a boon for the economic future of Russell, he said.
City leaders have offered few details about what the revitalization of Beecher Terrace could include. Residents have been divided on whether the complex should be destroyed or, rather, improved. In the award summary, HUD details how developers will replace Beecher Terrace with 640 mixed-income units, a park and a pool.
State Sen. Gerald Neal, who was born in Beecher Terrace, said whatever happens, the focus must extend beyond a housing complex face-lift.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity, if done right,” he said.
Neal said he wants to see existing residents supported throughout the revitalization process.
“That’s going to be the struggle, we have to be intentional and mindful of that going forward,” he said.
In addition to Louisville, four other cities will get multimillion-dollar grant awards from HUD, per the news release. Denver, Boston, St. Louis and Camden, New Jersey are also sharing in the some $132 million awarded Monday by the federal agency.
The five awardees will replace 1,853 severely distressed public housing units with nearly 3,700 new mixed-income, mixed-use housing units as part of an overall effort to revitalize neighborhoods.