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City To Invest in New Russell Housing Development

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Rising crime rates and shrinking property values nearly drove Sheree Dean and her family out of their home in Russell after four years of living on Cedar Street.

She said when they moved in, they expected more development to take hold in the neighborhood. That never happened. They were disappointed and wanted something better.

Now, things are looking up for the Deans and this strip of Cedar Street, near 18th Street in West Louisville. A $6 million public-private project that will bring 29 market-rate, single-family houses to the neighborhood is breaking ground next door.

Mayor Greg Fischer, who announced the project at a news conference Thursday, said homes are expected to range from 980-1,500 square feet and boast one to three bedrooms. Prices are expected to vary from $98,000 to $152,000, he said.

Nearly $1.4 million of the funding for the project will come from the city's general fund, Fischer said. Some of those funds will go toward helping improve the streetscape in and around the development area, he said.

The rest of the funding is expected to come from Community Ventures Corporation, which is leading the development. They'll partner with Rebound — the housing development arm of the Louisville Urban League — to build and find occupants for the homes, said CEO Kevin Smith.

Three of the 29 houses will be developed by Rebound, said Eugene Sowell, spokesman for Louisville Forward, the city's development arm. The lots will come from the city's land bank, he said.

Smith said his company received a $5 million loan that will be earmarked specifically for helping potential home buyers who fail to qualify for a mortgage at a bank. He said people with credit scores as low as 600 would be able to take advantage of the financial assistance program.

"We'll probably only need half of that for the first 26 houses, but we plan on building more," he said.

If interested residents don't initially qualify for the home buying process, he said, a team of housing counselors will work with them to raise credit scores or diminish debts. He said the homes in this development wouldn't be available for residents with subsidized housing vouchers or low-income housing tax credits, which are commonly used to assist renters.

"These are for people looking to own a home," he said.

Two families are already on the docket to move into the new houses when they're completed, Smith said. Nearly a dozen more -- most of them first-time home buyers -- are expected to begin moving through the qualifying process this week.

Smith said it's difficult to know at this point whether the families interested in moving into the new development are already living in Russell or coming into the neighborhood from other areas of the city.

Metro Council president David Tandy, who has lived in Russell for about 13 years, said he believes there is a demand from people wanting to come to Russell. He called the neighborhood "a diamond in the rough."

"What this project will do is start to create more interest in the area," he said, comparing it to areas of Park DuValle along Algonquin Parkway.

"There are a number of people looking for accessibility to downtown," he said. "I can attest to the fact that I can be from my garage to City Hall or anywhere in downtown Louisville within five minutes."

Russell is in the midst of a larger redevelopment. Walmart is slated to develop a new super center at 18th and Broadway, and West Louisville FoodPort is planned for 30th and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Both are set to bring vitality to the historic African-American neighborhood, Fischer said.

The mayor stood by the city's investment in new housing in a neighborhood that has been plagued by hundreds of vacant homes. He said the effort is a complement to ongoing work to eradicate vacant and abandoned properties across the city.

"There's all kind of people that like all kinds of homes, some people want new homes, some people want to be located right here in the middle of Russell, other people like fixer-uppers and rehabs," he said. "In a community our size, we need to do it all."

For the Deans and their neighbors, the project brings hope that better days are ahead for Russell. And it gives them a good reason to stay.

"I think we're all excited," Sheree Dean said. "Everybody is jazzed that the property values will hopefully start going back up, and that hopefully there'll be more patrols and we'll get that sense of safety and security."

(Photo by Jacob Ryan)

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