The aging Beecher Terrace public housing complex in Russell long has been considered an eyesore, and efforts are well underway to relocate tenants for its demolition.
Tim Barry, executive director of the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, said Monday that 155 of the 758 units inside the sprawling public housing development have been vacated as part of a three-year relocation program. Plans call for construction of 640 mixed-income units in their place over several years.
The project has been in the planning stages for years and is the centerpiece of a larger effort to revitalize Russell as an arts and cultural district that will restore luster to the West Louisville neighborhood. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is quick to point out that Russell was considered Louisville’s Harlem in the 1940s, with its mix of theaters, nightclubs and restaurants.
Barry said Monday that the housing authority is following strict federal relocation guidelines, in which the organization pays tenants to relocate. Under the program, residents can take the money and pay for moving costs on their own, or they can work with housing authority on the relocation. Barry said many choose to self-move.
Moving allowances paid to tenants are based on the number of bedrooms and vary between $900 and $1,300 per unit.
Barry said the three-year window was allotted to give the housing authority plenty of time to relocate everyone. But at this pace, he said, it could be completed sooner. The housing authority has been working with St. Louis-based Urban Strategies Inc. to help facilitate the move. Urban Strategies is a nonprofit corporation that works with developers on neighborhood rebuilds.
“They’ve done a heck of a job,” he said of Urban Strategies.
Demolition of the 59 buildings at Beecher Terrace will be phased in, and Barry said work could start by year’s end. The authority wants to move quickly on demolishing vacant buildings to ward off scavengers, he said.
For that reason, he declined to identify the first buildings set for demolition, saying only that the work probably will start on the east side of the development.
Beecher Terrace is on about 32 acres bordered by Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Jefferson, Ninth and 12th streets. The complex, which opened in the early 1940s, has a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
Barry said the first phase of new construction will involve about 120 housing units geared toward seniors. These could break ground early next year. Rental rates have not yet been set for the development, which is expected to retain the name Beecher Terrace — at least for now.
The larger redevelopment plans for the entire Russell neighborhood have been outlined through the Vision Russell Initiative.
Louisville received a $29.5 million implementation grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative program last year.
The federal funding is expected to leverage more than $200 million in private, foundation, nonprofit and public dollars to fully implement Vision Russell. The comprehensive transformation plan starts with the demolition and redevelopment of Beecher Terrace.
According to the Vision Russell website, the plan is to have 620 rental units and 20 homeownership units. About 172 of the 620 rental units will be market-rate housing, and the units available for purchase will be a mix of affordable and market-rate units, according to the website.
The units will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. In addition to public and mixed-rate housing, the new Beecher Terrace is expected to have commercial components, though those uses have not yet been defined.
Barry said the HUD grant and historic tax credits combined will pay for the redevelopment of Beecher Terrace, which could cost more than $170 million.
The systematic redevelopment of Russell could take up to a decade under the plans outlined by Vision Russell, but “Beecher Terrace will be more immediate,” Barry said.