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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville is taking the first steps toward razing a troubled public housing complex west of downtown and replacing it with a mixed-income development.
The city and Louisville Metro Housing Authority intend to apply this summer for a $500,000 federal grant that would start planning the future of Beecher Terrace, the largest remaining housing project in Louisville.
“We would take that money and try to use that … to create a plan for the redevelopment of Beecher and beyond,” said Tim Barry, the housing authority’s executive director.
Built in 1941, the 760-unit Beecher Terrace is one of two large, multifamily sites operated by the housing authority. It gained national recognition earlier this year when PBS’ Frontline reported that one of every six residents there spends time in prison each year.
Since the 1990s, Louisville leaders have targeted large, blighted public housing in an effort to eliminate areas with high concentrations of poverty. The former Cotter and Lang, Clarksdale and Sheppard Square projects all were torn down, replaced with a mix of public housing and market-rate homes and apartments.
Beecher Terrace received $20 million in renovations several decades ago. But Barry said the 59 buildings that sit on 32 acres bounded by 9th, Muhammad Ali, 12th and Jefferson streets are “distressed. They need some attention.”
A July meeting will be scheduled to brief residents, Barry said.
Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration views Beecher Terrace as part of the “9th Street divide” that separates downtown from western Louisville – physically and psychologically.
“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.
In addition, the city has applied for a federal U.S. Department of Transportation grant to study the future of 9th Street from the river to Hill Street -- including the towering ramp from Interstate 64. The ramp and 9th Street are “historic 20th century infrastructure barriers,” she said.
Wiederwohl cautioned that the Beecher Terrace plan is in a “preliminary and visionary stage,” and no financing approach exists. Barry estimates the work could cost approximately $140 million. Past projects have leveraged public and private monies.
The housing authority and city officials are working on the application for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods grant program, which succeeded the federal HOPE VI program that helped pay for previous projects like Park DuValle in western Louisville.
HOPE VI was limited to applications from housing agencies, but Choice Neighborhoods is open to government and private applicants, such as nonprofit organizations. The new program also aims to redevelop aging public housing and the surrounding neighborhoods, and Barry said the city’s proposal will stretch several miles into the Russell neighborhood.
Metro Council member David Tandy, whose 4th District includes Beecher Terrace, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The plans for Beecher Terrace come as the housing authority still has yet to replace all of the units lost when Sheppard Square was razed in Smoketown. The agency also has committed to replacing 854 apartments from the old Iroquois Homes in southern Louisville, but Barry said only 40 have been added – none in at least six months, according to a WDRB analysis.
“I don’t think this is the moment in time for them to do this,” said Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, which advocates for fair and affordable housing.
Hinko, a former director of the old Housing Authority of Jefferson County, said she believes the Park Hill neighborhood’s Parkway Place or the downtown Dosker Manor are better candidates for replacement. At the very least, Hinko said, other public housing units should be added before embarking on a plan for Beecher Terrace.
The city’s application is due in August. Barry said Beecher Terrace’s “social element” – the prison statistics cited by Frontline and several shootings earlier this year, for instance – will be a factor in the application.
And Barry defended plans to tear down another public housing complex, even as his agency has yet to replenish units lost elsewhere.
“We’re sitting here with a 70-year-old facility that’s not getting any better,” he said.