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Groups Push to Raise $2 Million, Renovate 30 Buildings in Louisville's Portland Neighborhood

20150630_133359

Razor wire hangs from the fence on the south side of Jeanne Tessier's home in the Portland neighborhood. She doesn't own the fence.

No one does, really.

The property to the south of Tessier's home, at 17th and Bank streets, is vacant. The barren lot sits in stark contrast to Tessier's shotgun home. On her side of the fence is the house with crisp white trim around the windows and a  row of flowers along the front.

She moved in about six weeks ago.

Her house on 17th Street is an early product of the Portland Investment Initiative—a new effort to revitalize portions of Louisville's Portland neighborhood.

The initiative is recently partnered with non-profit group New Directions Housing Corporation to assist in administrative duties related to the revitalization effort.

The groups want to raise $2 million to help purchase and renovate 30 houses and commercial spaces in the neighborhood.

Nearly 42 percent of the neighborhood’s 11,000 residents live in poverty, according to U.S. Census data.  And a 2014 report from Network Center for Community Change said Portland has nearly 10 percent of all of Louisville's vacant or abandoned properties.

Many of those vacant properties are shotgun homes, said Stephanie Kertis, spokeswoman for the initiative.

"And we think that is such a classic Louisville housing form and we don't want to see that disappear," she said.

The plan calls for the purchase and renovation of homes and commercial spaces along Bank Street, between 15th and 26th Street, Kertis said.

A handful of houses have been completed, so far, she said. The groups have raised about a third of the $2 million they need for the entire project. The funds have came from a small gaggle of private investors, Kertis said.

Louisville businessman Gill Holland Holland is leading the initiative. He also led efforts to revamp the once-blighted east Market Street area. (Holland is a member of the Louisville Public Media board of directors.)

Kertis said the recent efforts in Portland are different from those that took place just east of downtown.

"It's a whole different type of neighborhood with different needs," she said. "It's a much larger area with some potentially some bigger problems."

Tessier said the problems are evident in the neighborhood.

Her small, two bedroom home is nice. The floors are new, so are the windows.

But empty, abandoned structures pepper the street. Longtime residents remind her to be safe and stay away from certain areas. The mail carrier said she needs a gun.

Tessier, however, said she's yet to have a bad experience in the neighborhood. She used to live in Old Louisville and said her new Portland home is quieter than life on Sixth Street.

She said she believes the claims of gentrification in Portland are "a real concern" and understands how people who have lived in the neighborhood for years may feel pushed out when a once decrepit building is renovated and an outsider moves in.

"If I was one of the natives, I would think, 'What's the deal here,'" she added.

"I don't want to see the end result of this project is the poor get pushed out and have to go fend for themselves. I would like to see a community develop where poor and less poor and even comfortable can live side by side."

Stepping outside her home recently, she motioned to the razor wire.

"There is way more of that than this," she said, pointing back at the house.

"I'm hoping for more of this."

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