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Big Changes May Come to Louisville's Beecher Terrace, Bringing Mixed Reaction From Residents

Dominique Frierson has wanted to get out of Beecher Terrace since he moved into the Russell neighborhood housing project in 2003.

"I've seen a lot things go down over here, it's a whole lot of bull----," Frierson said.

In fact, he said the entire 768 housing project needs to be "knocked down."

"Like every other project," he added.

And Frierson's wish may soon turn to reality.

Louisville Housing Authority, which manages the Beecher Terrace public housing complex, has received a $425,000 federal planning grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that could have impacts on Beecher Terrace and the entire Russell neighborhood.

Over the next two years the funds will enable housing officials to create a plan for redeveloping Russell. And unlike previous Hope VI grants that focused on individual housing projects like Sheppard Square and Liberty Green, this grant enables housing officials to focus on the whole neighborhood, said Tim Barry, executive director of Louisville Metro Housing Authority.

Barry said the plan will include "some redevelopment of Beecher," but he added the specifics of the plan have not been finalized.

The planning grant funds are part of the federal Choice Neighborhood's program, which "represents a new approach to community revitalization," U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said Friday while speaking at the Baxter Community Center in Louisville.

More than 50 applications for the planning grant were received and just seven were selected. The seven neighborhoods will split $3.2 million in planning grant funds, according to HUD.

The Choice Neighborhood's Program aims to provide funding to communities with the aim to "redevelop distressed public or assisted housing and transform neighborhoods," according to a news release.

Castro said his department wants to see "a holistic plan for revitalization."

Some other key details to the redevelopment of the Russell neighborhood include adding a grocery store to the area and a "small retail center," according to new release.

Mayor Greg Fischer said the revitalization of Russell could help end the stigma of Ninth Street as the "racial divide in our city."

"Let us imagine and build that vision that is both timeless and inspirational," he said.

The Russell neighborhood includes the blocks west of Ninth to 32nd streets and from Broadway to Market Street. About 62 percent of Russell residents live in poverty and 40 percent live in subsidized housing, according to data provided by HUD.

Once the planning grant expires, Louisville housing officials will be required to apply for a federal implementation grant though HUD that would provide funding to act on the plan—if the city is selected, Castro said.

"Getting the planning grant is the first step, it will make Louisville more competitive certainly for an implementation grant, but that is a decision that is made independently down the road," he said.

Frierson, 29, walking through the barracks style housing project that had it's lone update nearly 25 years ago, said officials need to act sooner than later.

He moved to Beecher Terrace from Sheppard Square, another public housing complex. He said the area has long been ignored by officials and catches attention only for it's reputation as a hub for crime and violence. He said the area got worse after residents were forced to move out of other public housing complexes such as Clarksdale and Southwick—both a focus of past Hope VI revitalization efforts—and in to Beecher Terrace.

"This project is not even Beecher Terrace anymore, it's like a mixture of all projects," he said.

But he said if Beecher is demolished and the current residents are forced out, it will create tension wherever they end up, which he believes will be the Park Hill housing project.

"If you think it's bad now to be in Park Hill, it's going to be even worse," he said.

But not everyone who lives in Beecher Terrace wants to leave.

Ola Mae Howard, 85, has lived in Beecher Terrace for about 14 years after moving from Clarksdale projects. She said she likes living in the housing project, but knows that when the redevelopment begins she will have to go somewhere else.

"Wherever they send us, we have to go, I may lose some of my friends, but I still want to come back to Beecher Terrace," she said.

She lives alone in Beecher Terrace and said its important to her to be able to come back because it's close to her doctor and her church.

But her son, Herbert Howard, would like to see her move out.

He doens't live in Beecher, but comes daily to check in with her. He said he worries about her "all the time," and for him tearing Beecher Terrace down would be a good thing.

Maria Dearing, 26, has lived in Beecher Terrace for seven years, and before she lived in Liberty Green. She, too, would like to see Beecher Terrace torn down. But she said she wants to see it rebuilt "bigger and better."

"I just want to see a better community," she said.  "When they tear it down and rebuild them, it will stop some of the violence."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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