The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has denied a $22 million grant request submitted by Metro government to raze the historic Sheppard Square housing complex in the Smoketown neighborhood. The city’s ambitious plan was its fourth request in the past decade to tear down a housing project using federal money from the controversial Hope VI Revitalization Program, which was setup to demolish old barracks-style facilities and redevelop them into a mixed-income neighborhood.
Earlier today HUD announced that among the 44 agencies that applied for federal funding, only six housing authorities will receive a total of $113.6 million to transform “distressed public housing developments,” in their cities.
“I’m disappointed, but the competition is very fierce for these grants. The money is short and the need is great,” says Tim Barry, executive director of the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, who believes the 67-year-old complex needs to be replaced. “It’s disappointing because we hoped to continue replacing these outdated public housing models. Anybody out there who thinks Sheppard Square is an acceptable place to live I’d be happy to give them a key.”
In past public housing redevelopment projects, public housing advocates have been troubled that the city has allowed only a portion of newly constructed housing to go toward rent-assisted units, meaning many low-income residents have had to relocate. The idea behind Hope VI is to shatter pockets of poverty and to disperse clusters of impoverished residents.
Barry says the housing authority will maintain the housing structures to make sure they’re habitable, but the city plans to appeal HUD’s decision.
Located just blocks from the city’s medical district, a hop from a booming downtown and near the University of Louisville, the Smoketown neighborhood is prime real estate for city planners. But critics point out that public money would only pay for part of the estimated $140 million demolition project and the real motive is to sanitize the area of poor people.
“The location has always been offered as an investment opportunity to private developers more so than, for instance, the Park Hill housing complex, which is much more deteriorated and an unhappier place than Sheppard Square,” says Cathy Hinko, director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. “The more private investment involved the less it is about public housing and serving those with the greatest need. So I think postponing the demolition isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
Barry told LEO last year that roughly one-third of the new units will be public housing, and former residents will be at the top of the list. However, the occupancy criteria could likely become more stringent than before, requiring things like criminal background checks and that residents be enrolled in school, job training or working if they are physically able.
Despite disagreements over Hope VI program amongst housing advocates and officials, Sheppard Square residents had mixed feelings about the potential demolition. The split contingents agreed that the deteriorating facades needed repairs and that various social ills do plague the area, but there was disagreement over whether tearing down the oldest African-American housing complex and scattering residents across the city is the best solution.