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Louisville Is A Finalist For Federal Grant To Spur Russell Remake

Louisville is among five cities selected as finalists for a federal grant that, if awarded, would help fuel a major revitalization of Russell.

The Choice Neighborhood grant funds are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and could provide up to $30 million to selected cities to help improve neighborhoods struggling with poverty and a lack of resources.

City leaders in Louisville launched a concerted effort to win the funding after being awarded a $425,000 federal planning grant in January 2015.

A task force of residents and city officials meets regularly to discuss elements of the potential revitalization, and a new position was created within Metro government to focus solely on the redevelopment efforts in Russell.

The idea is to transform the historic West Louisville neighborhood — which in recent decades has faced struggles with blight, poverty and crime — into a mixed-use, mixed-income area with dense housing options, retail and the resources communities need to thrive, said Gretchen Milliken, director of the city’s office of advanced planning, in an interview earlier this year.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro called the Choice Neighborhood grant program a "new approach to community revitalization" during a stop in Louisville to announce the initial awarding of planning funds.

During that stop, he also toured the Beecher Terrace housing complex, which city leaders consider a major element of the plan to revitalize Russell.

Unlike previous HOPE VI grants that focused on remaking individual housing projects into mixed-income communities such as Sheppard Square and Liberty Green, this grant would enable housing officials to focus on an entire neighborhood, said Tim Barry, executive director of Louisville Metro Housing Authority.

Barry said Beecher — which was erected in the 1940s — is outdated, and “it’s time to replace it with something more modern.”

How Louisville Was Chosen

Finalists were selected based on their plan to improve public housing, advance education outcomes and youth mobility, and provide resources that can boost safety, improve schools and spur economic investment in the area, according to HUD.

The federal agency is looking for cities that plan to replace "distressed public housing" with "high-quality" mixed-income units. They're also looking for plans that include providing support for young people and families by committing resources for developing good schools, safe streets and economic amenities.

Barry said while city officials have been instrumental in making it this far in the process, he praised residents of Russell as the backbone of the planning process. Some 80 community meets have taken place since the planning began, he said.

"They have really stepped up," he said. "It's been a team effort."

Other finalists include Boston, Denver, St. Louis and Camden, New Jersey.

What's Next

Being selected as a finalist is no guarantee funding will be awarded.

Officials from HUD will visit each finalist city in the coming weeks to "ensure the applicants are committed and capable of implementing the neighborhood transformation as described in their application," according to the HUD website.

Funding will likely be announced in December. Cities could get up to $30 million to spur revitalization efforts, which local officials say will help leverage other public and private funding to "implement a comprehensive revitalization of the Russell neighborhood, including the Beecher Terrace public housing development," according to a news release from Mayor Greg Fischer's office.

Barry said the revitalization effort would proceed with or without federal funding. But he's quick to stress that $30 million would spur that effort.

"We're forever hopeful," he said.

Russell stretches west of Ninth Street to 32nd Street and from Broadway north 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.

A 2015 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.

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.