Nonprofit Bringing Market-Rate Housing to Russell as City Focuses Its Revitalization Efforts
November 09, 2016

LOUISVILLE, KY (Louisville Business First)— It’s little more than a frame now, but before Christmas, the structure will be the first of 25 houses built as part of the Cedar Street development, an initiative by the nonprofit Community Ventures Corp. to revitalize the Russell neighborhood by creating more market-rate housing.

“It’s probably the best Christmas present ever,” said Marshae Smith, a 30-year-old advertising director at Jeffersonville-based Shoe Sensation.

Smith, her husband, Walter Smith, also 30, and their two young boys will move into the house on Cedar Street, between 19th and 20th streets, before the Christmas holiday, pending no major weather-related delays. The two-story, 1,600-square-foot house was designed with input from the Smiths on what tile, backsplash, granite countertops and flooring they like, among other finishes. They also had a say in the layout, which will include three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

“It’s a blessing,” she said. “We get to decorate, and it’s ours. It’s personal.”

The Smith family currently rents an apartment in the nearby Shawnee neighborhood, but were looking to buy a home and wanted to stay nearby.

“We love the potential. We love where they plan to take the Russell neighborhood,” Smith said. “Before this, we never thought about building a home, not at this time. Honestly, we didn’t even think that was an option. …We just didn’t think there was the property out there to do so.”

The young family will be the first new residents to move on that block this decade, and Community Ventures already has two more contracts with home buyers to build another two houses on the same stretch of Cedar Street. Construction on those could begin next month.

“For this community — and people thinking no one wants to move in this community or raise kids in this community — this is a great example of the message we want to put out there for the Cedar Street development,” said Marshall Crawford Jr., president of housing and multifamily development for Community Ventures.

The nonprofit based out of Lexington is actively taking applications from prospective home buyers. People interested in applying or who have questions can call (800) 299-0267. Community Ventures isn’t seeking any demographic in particular when it comes to its 25 houses, Crawford said. First-time home buyers, people looking to move back into the neighborhood, older couples and families are all welcome to apply.

“Whoever wants to live in this community, we have an option for them to build in this community,” he said. “This is going to be well-developed when we are finished with it, a very vibrant-looking community.”

The home layouts and interior elements will vary depending on the needs of the home buyer, Crawford said, but the houses will range in cost from $105,000 to $150,000. Home buyers can either obtain a mortgage through Community Ventures or a traditional bank to fund their purchase; both have affordable housing home loans, if needed.

“This is what the market is bearing, about $150,000 in this particular community,” he said, adding that Community Ventures isn’t looking to make a profit, which is why it can afford to build market-rate housing in the Russell neighborhood. “We are trying to do it at cost.”

The Cedar Street homes will have a similar exterior look and feel as this house, which Community Ventures uses as a meeting space for the development. Louisville-based Tawana Hughes Builder is constructing the Smith family home, but Community Ventures plans to bid out the other houses individually to ensure it is meeting federal guidelines and using the builder with the best value. The total project will cost $5 million. Community Ventures received funding from NeighborWorks America, Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, the U.S. Treasury Department’s CDFI Fund and JPMorgan Chase.

While the first house seems to have popped up overnight, the Cedar Street development has been a couple of years in the making. Community Ventures bought the land in 2014 and spent last year planning, Crawford said, including working with Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government to prepare the streetscape for the new houses. The infrastructure and streetscape improvements cost $550,000 and spanned Cedar Street, between 19th to 20th streets, as well as sections of 19th to 20th streets northbound, said Gabe Fritz, director of metro’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

“The major improvements were focused on street drainage, a new paving topcoat for the entire roadway, and a new curb and gutter system,” he said. The city also installed new sidewalks and planted more than 40 trees. The city doesn’t plan to stop with that span of Cedar Street, either.

“This effort along Cedar Street to provide market-rate housing in the Russell neighborhood is really important,” Fritz said. “It reinforces all the investment and all the new construction that is going to be happening.”

The Cedar Street development is part of a broader revitalization effort in the neighborhood.

“This is just an extension of being apart of this community,” Crawford said.

Community Ventures also renovated the former Jay’s Cafeteria at 1812 W. Muhammad Ali Boulevard into Chef Space, a small business incubator for people in the food industry. The nonprofit now has 18 businesses renting food preparation and work space at Chef Space; it hopes to be a launchpad for business development in the West End. But Community Ventures is by no means the only group working in Russell. Along that same stretch of Cedar Street, Louisville Urban League‘s nonprofit REBOUND also plans to build three single-family houses of its own. From 1993 to 2001, REBOUND built 47 single-family homes in the Russell neighborhood, according to its website. The recession stopped development in the area, but it has started to pick up again.

In the meantime, Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government has turned its eye toward Russell in a big way. Louisville Metro Housing Authority and metro government, together with community input, are creating a plan called Vision Russell that lays out how the city will make investments to revitalize the neighborhood. The plan will be completed in December. A critical part of the plan includes tearing down the Beecher Terrace housing project and reimagining the low-income housing development as a mixed-income housing development with improved services.

The city is a finalist for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development that could help Louisville implement its Vision Russell plan and revamp Beecher Terrace. Louisville could receive up to $29.5 million as part of the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. HUD visited Louisville last week, and the meeting went “very, very well,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development. The city expects to hear in December whether or not it will receive the additional funding. Wiederwohl added that the funding from HUD would help the city leverage another $160 million in investment for the neighborhood. More mixed-income housing in Russell also is expected to attract retail.

“This is what will spur that,” she said.

Earlier this year, the city received $1 million from HUD and chipped in $375,000 of its own money for “action activities” related to Vision Russell. Residents have until Nov. 22 to email (action2017@lmha1.org) or mail (420 S. Eighth St., Louisville, KY 40203) ideas for “action activities” to metro government. Based on community input gathered in September, the ideas should involve repurposing vacant lots, improving Sheppard Park, transforming bus stops and enhancing neighborhood gateways, according to the city. Idea examples include a community garden, a farmers’ market, sheltered bus stops and playgrounds.

“The goal is to really take a look at the Russell neighborhood as a whole and really focus our energy,” Fritz said.

This article was published first in Louisville Business First by Caitlin Bowling. You can read the original article here.