Southern Indiana

New Albany officials are using COVID-19 relief money to help fund the transformation of one of the city’s largest public housing complexes.

On Tuesday, the New Albany Redevelopment Commission unanimously approved the New Albany Housing Authority’s (NAHA) request for $2.4 million from the American Rescue Plan, about 14% of New Albany’s $16.83 million total relief funding.

That money will go towards razing the Beechwood public housing complex and building a mixed-income neighborhood in its place.

“It is our oldest [public housing] development, and it has served a purpose,” said NAHA executive director David Duggins. “It’s just time for a change there. The barracks-style living is no longer the style that we want to provide to our citizens. Affordable housing should also mean quality housing.”

Beechwood comprises 114 public housing units in small buildings that were built in the 1940s. New Albany officials said the buildings have fallen into disrepair over the years due to lack of maintenance and funding from the federal government.

Because of that, the city is planning to start from scratch instead of repairing the aging complex, which sits between Charlestown and Grant Line roads. Beechwood’s buildings, roads, sidewalks and utilities will be demolished by next spring, with the full project expected to take about two years at a cost of between $25 million and $26 million. 

More than 80 housing units, including 53 single-family and duplex homes and a three-story building with 30 senior-preferred apartments, will be built on the property. An additional 12 lots for future homes will be sold at market-rate.

Redevelopment Director Josh Staten said creating a new mixed-income neighborhood in the area could spur additional economic growth.

“I think it’s a potential to be a catalyst for the city, because when you improve one area, areas around it start to improve,” he said. “By investing and building a better neighborhood here, surrounding neighborhoods are in turn going to see more investment just on their own naturally.”

Current Beechwood residents will be relocated with tenant protection vouchers, which Duggins compared to Section 8 vouchers. He said there are already 18 vacancies in the complex, and he expects more people to move out through normal turnover in the coming months.

Duggins said NAHA is hiring a relocation firm to help residents use the vouchers to move into new housing across the region. Once the Beechwood project is finished, former residents who still have qualifying incomes will be able to move back, though the units won’t be guaranteed.

“We’ve got all kinds of new facilities coming around in the region,” Duggins said. “Louisville has several locations out there on Cane Run Road that are beautiful and accepting vouchers. We also have Monon Crossing on Grant Line Road, where we were able to house nine people from [a NAHA property]. It is up to them to find a location, but we help with that process.”

The Beechwood project is part of a citywide plan to de-concentrate public housing. Next year, the city will demolish the NAHA-operated Riverview Tower. The 16-story building has 164 units that housed older residents for about 50 years.

Mayor Jeff Gahan said New Albany has more than 1,000 public housing units. He said the city has historically done a “lion’s share” of public housing work in the region and called on neighboring municipalities to ramp up their efforts.

“If you look closely at what we’re doing, we’re helping with housing for people that just don’t live in New Albany, they’ve just chosen to relocate here because of some of the services our public housing offers,” Gahan said. “Jeffersonville needs to step up. Clarksville needs to step up. Corydon needs to step up, Floyd County, Clark County.”

Gahan said that affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges Southern Indiana is facing.

“We all need to step up and do a better job of working with folks that need housing. It’s not going to get done by itself and there’s plenty of room. We have continued to do our fair share, but it’s also time for our peer cities to step up and do the same.”

A housing study recently released by New Albany officials shows the city’s housing stock isn’t keeping up with demand, and prices have increased significantly since 2015. To combat this, more than 900 housing units are currently being built across the city.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.