HUD Will Help Five Cities Redo Troubled Neighborhoods


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

An unusually comprehensive federal initiative will try to make drastic improvements in poor, violence-prone neighborhoods in Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago.

The US Department of Housing & Urban Development chose projects in the five cities to receive $122 million in Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grants, the first major awards in this Obama administration initiative.

The grants are intended to redevelop distressed housing and, at the same time, bring about far-reaching neighborhood revitalization in blighted areas where violence is common, poverty is high, and school performance is substandard.

The recipient organizations, targeted neighborhoods, and the number of awards are:

• City of Boston/Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp., $20.5 million, for Woodledge/Morrant Bay Apartments and Dorchester/Quincy Corridor community. The city’s Quincy Corridor Transformation plan centers on a “severely distressed” 129-unit HUD-assisted housing development in a part where violent crime is twice as prevalent as in the town.

• Housing Authority of the New Orleans/City of New Orleans,$30.5 million, for Iberville Public Housing Development/Iberville-Treme community.

• McCormack Baron Salazar/San Francisco Housing Authority, $30.5 million, for Alice Griffith Public Housing Development/Eastern Bayview community. The core of this undertaking is a 22-acre, 256-unit public housing development built in 1962. The goal is to produce 1,126 units—public housing, low-income housing tax-credit units, market-rate, “inclusionary,” and workforce units. “As part of a longer-term plan, up to 7,850 units are projected to be developed over the next 10-15 years,” HUD said.

• Housing Authority of the City of Seattle, $10.27 million, for Yesler Terrace Public Housing Development/Yesler community. A 15-year plan aims to transform the Yesler neighborhood, adjacent to Seattle’s business district, through an “investment of approximately $2 billion in public and private funds,” according to HUD.

• Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc./the City of Chicago, $30.5 million, for Grove Parc Plaza/Woodlawn community—a grant reported on New Urban Network earlier this week.

Conditions in all of these neighborhoods are difficult. But most of the targeted areas are near areas that are considerably more prosperous, which could help them recover. For example, the Iberville public housing project “is adjacent to the thriving French Quarter and Central Business District,” HUD pointed out in a series of project summaries on the HUD website.

The Iberville/Treme Transformation Plan, as are the four other initial projects in the HUD program, is highly ambitious. The Iberville plan focuses on a distressed 821-unit public housing complex in a neighborhood where more than 52 percent of the households live in poverty. Only 441 of its units are currently occupied. Iberville was designed in 1940 as a superblock of 74 two- and three-story buildings. HUD said that twenty-four of those buildings would be reconfigured and renovated, the remaining 50 buildings would be replaced, and the street grid would be restored.

When the changes are complete, there will be 913 units on-site, of which 304 will be public housing available to current Iberville residents. The remaining 609 on-site units will be split evenly between market-rate and low-income housing tax credit units. An additional 1,518 rental units will be created within the neighborhood; 527 will be public housing or project-based Section 8 units. A further 15 sites will be developed into homeownership units. The total costs are estimated at approximately $662 million.

Improving public education and getting families on a track toward better lives are two goals the program will try to achieve, in addition to providing higher-quality housing. The Workforce Investment Authority and Early Childhood & Family Learning Foundation’s Outreach Program will attempt to see kindergarteners reading at grade-level expectations. The Recovery School District and its partners will build or renovate schools and work with the Afterschool Partnership and the Boys and Girls Club to provide enrichment activities before and after school. Allied with those efforts will be health programs and a Police Department violence prevention program.

After extensive neighborhood planning, “the development team intends to leverage a $2 million Sustainable Communities Challenge Grant to study the removal of an elevated stretch of interstate I-10, the return of a new streetcar line (named Desire), and further City investment in the Lafitte Greenway,” HUD noted. Other program elements include street connectivity enhancements, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, and spaces for neighborhood retail on the ground floor of new residential buildings.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the project “could drastically change a large portion of the city’s downtown.” Said the paper: With hopes of transforming an entire neighborhood, developers will spend $589 million in the “Iberville-Treme” area to construct nearly 2,446 new apartments, many above ground-floor stores and cafes.”

Progress seems to be rapid already, judging from the Times-Picayune:

Construction is underway in the historic 18-story Texaco Building at 1501 Canal St., including 114 senior-citizen apartments and ground-floor retail. And a group of developers filed applications today with the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, requesting low-income housing tax credits for three segments of the plan. In addition, nonprofit developer Artspace applied its method to create art lofts within the historic Andrew J—Bell school in the 6th Ward. And Iberville site developers McCormack Baron Salazar and HRI Properties requested tax credits for one section of the Iberville complex and for Israel Augustine School on South Broad Street, which will be renovated into apartments.

In other cities, various organizations have also agreed to tackle the many troubles of the target neighborhoods. For example, Chad Perry at Goody Clancy & Associates, involved in planning in New Orleans, sees Choice Neighborhoods as similar to HUD’s longstanding HOPE VI program, which focuses on deteriorated public housing projects.

“I think the main difference with Choice Neighborhoods … is that it looks more deliberately at the larger surrounding area and linkages to public services to transform distressed neighborhoods and projects into sustainable mixed-income communities,” says Perry.

Tampa, Florida, had also been in the running for a Choice Neighborhoods grant but did not get it. A HUD spokeswoman said, “Unfortunately, we did not have enough funding to award a grant to all of the finalists after partially funding the fifth application—Seattle.”

“Congress appropriated  $65 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative in 2010 and 2011,” the spokeswoman said. “To fund more applicants for the first Choice Neighborhood Implementation grants, HUD combined 2010 and 2011 funding to award five of the six Choice Implementation finalists and included this option in the Round 2 NOFA [Notice of Funding Availability] that was published in March.”