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City Seeks Promise Zone Status For West Louisville

City officials are turning to the federal government for assistance in boosting the social and economic welfare of nine neighborhoods in western Louisville.

An application was submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in late 2014 appealing for Promise Zone designation for the city’s westernmost communities.

The neighborhoods included in the application are Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park DuValle, Park Hill, Parkland, Portland, Russell and Shawnee, according to the Louisville Metro Promise Zone application.

Here is a map:

 

The Promise Zone initiative was announced in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address.  It aims to revitalize high-poverty communities across the country by creating jobs, increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities, reducing crime, leveraging private capital and assisting local leaders in navigating federal programs. Five Promise Zones have been designated so far, including one in Eastern Kentucky, and the president wants a total of 20 before he leaves office.

No funding comes with being Promise Zone, but the designation can give areas an advantage when applying for federal grants, said Jeff O’Brien, an urban planner with the city’s office of advanced planning.

“What the Promise Zone says is that the federal government recognizes there is some need for some extra assistance in this area due to the socioeconomic conditions,” said O’Brien, a project manager on the city's Promise Zone application.

For instance, the initiative has led to the identification of about $109 million in grant funds being directed to Kentucky over the next seven years, said Sandi Curd, program coordinator for the Kentucky Highlands Promise Zone in the eastern part of the state.

“That’s $109 million that didn’t exist in the economy before,” she said.

A federal liaison and five AmeriCorps VISTA members are also sent to areas considered Promise Zones to assist in the navigation of federal agencies and federal resources, O’Brien said.

Congress also has the ability to enact key tax incentives “for businesses located in the Promise Zone or hiring workers from the Promise Zone,” O’Brien said.

The nine neighborhoods in western Louisville within the Promise Zone application “have been in decline for some time,” O’Brien said.

But he said recent efforts of private and public investment in Louisville’s western neighborhoods offer telling signs that “some momentum is going on” to improve the area.

Programs like 55,000 Degrees, Shine on Shawnee, Zones of Hope and the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods are beginning to show results in improving conditions in the area, he said.

“We are turning the corner here, but we need a little help to fully make the turn,” he said.

To be eligible for Promise Zone designation, an area must have between 10,000 and 200,000 residents with a poverty rate exceeding 33 percent, according to information provided by the department of Housing and Urban Development.

The neighborhoods listed on the application from Louisville have a 45 percent poverty rate.  For comparison, Louisville Metro has a poverty rate of 17 percent.

 

 

The same western Louisville neighborhoods have a 24 percent unemployment rate, an 8 percent bachelor's degree attainment rate and a life expectancy of less than 71 years.  The felony rate per 1,000 residents in the nine neighborhoods is as high as 126, according to the Louisville Metro application summary.

O’Brien said he is “hopeful” the proposed area will become a Promise Zone.

“We think we have a pretty strong application,” he said.  “We think that we’ve had a lot of things going on in west Louisville and in those neighborhoods that give us an advantage over other communities.”

But if the application fails it doesn’t spell the end of the road for advancing the neighborhoods in westernmost Louisville, O’Brien said.

“You really need that combination of private philanthropy, government subsidies and you need private investors as well,” he said.  “There is not one magic bullet—there is a whole range of solutions needed to solve the issues that occur in urban neighborhoods.”

City officials expect to know whether the application is approved by March.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.