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A Year In, Russell Revitalization Planning Moves Ahead

Louisville housing officials say they're making progress on a broad redevelopment plan for the long-struggling Russell neighborhood.

The effort began nearly a year ago, after the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Louisville Metro Housing Authority a $425,000 grant to create a plan to revitalize Russell.

Grant funds will provide resources for the two-year planning stage, said Tim Barry, executive director of the city's housing authority. As the first year draws to a close, he said he's happy with what's been accomplished.

Barry said more than 500 participants are involved in the planning process, including Russell residents, members of Metro government, church leaders and community advocates. Four task forces have been formed to focus on housing, education, infrastructure and residents.

Finalized plan outlines from each task force will be submitted to Housing and Urban Development officials by Friday, at which point they will be available for public review, Barry said.

Each task force has held regular meetings — Barry said he's been attending multiple meetings each week along with Gretchen Milliken, director of the city's office of advanced planning — to discuss what residents want to see included.

The outlines will act as guiding documents for the overall plan's structure, Milliken said.

No details have been finalized for the redevelopment process, she said. This includes what will become of the 768-unit Beecher Terrace public housing complex, a historically troubled spot in Louisville.

Beecher Terrace sits just west of Ninth Street at the easternmost edge of Russell. It has for years had a reputation as a hub for criminal activity.

In a survey of Beecher Terrace residents, the majority (71 percent) said crime occurs at least one to two times a week in the neighborhood.

Barry said the complex — which was erected in the 1940s — is outdated, and "it's time to replace it with something more modern."

"It's clearly outlived its usefulness," he said. "Beecher will certainly change."

How, exactly, is not yet known.

Miliken said the idea is to create a stock of mixed-income housing and mixed-use development across the neighborhood.

"We will be planning for a more urban neighborhood," she said. "We'll be planning for today and the needs and the issues and concerns that we're facing."

She said she expected pushback from residents. But as the process moves forward, she said, residents are becoming more involved because many want change. Participating is a way to get it, she said.

Milliken said residents have expressed interest in public safety, employment, health care access, parks and transportation.

A July report from Louisville Metro found the occurrence of violent crime is about three times higher in Russell than the rest of the city. The report shows there are 16 violent crimes per 1,000 residents in Russell, compared with 5.8 violent crimes per 1,000 residents across the metro area.

The same report found that Russell residents hold just about 100 of the some 2,500 jobs located within the boundaries of the neighborhood.

Nearly 40 percent of Russell residents are unemployed and unable to work, the report found.

The lack of green space is another point of concern for many residents, Miliken said. Russell has just more than 1 acre of park space per 1,000 residents, compared with a citywide rate of 22 acres per 1,000 residents, the city's report shows.

Miliken said the redevelopment plan will look to address all of these issues.

She said the city is not seeking to change the demographics of the Russell neighborhood, which is primarily populated by low-income African-American residents. Rather, she said the idea is to give the residents a better quality of life and make the neighborhood more attractive to all types of residents.

The federal grant is narrow, designed only to help local housing officials develop a plan. And there is still a year of planning remaining, Milliken said.

Implementing a plan would likely cost around $300 million, she said. City officials will apply for a nearly $30 million Housing and Urban Development implementation grant to help with that process, Miliken said.

But those grants are highly competitive. Only three are expected to be awarded among more than 30 applications that will likely be submitted, she said.

Marshall Gazaway is the president of the Beecher Terrace Resident Council. He's attended the meetings and said he's pleased with the progress.

He said the process is giving residents some hope for the future of their neighborhood.

"We can definitely bring this part of the community of West Louisville together and hopefully be a sustainable area in West Louisville, and hope to be the pilot of what will happen throughout West Louisville," he said.

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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