A three-year-old plan to level the crime-plagued Boulevard Homes housing project and replace it with an educational village has finally entered its construction phase, albeit a year behind schedule.
The 41-acre development, now renamed Renaissance, calls for building 334 mixed-income apartments near West Boulevard and Billy Graham Parkway.
Developers predict the first phase, a 110-unit building for low-income seniors and the disabled, could host its first tenants as early as May. Two additional phases will add 224 apartments that will serve a range of residents from low-income to those who can afford market rate.
The Charlotte Housing Authority, which is behind the project, expects the entire redevelopment to take up to three more years, at which point it could house as many as 800 people.
Construction was originally to have begun by mid-2011, but was delayed while financial backing was secured from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, said housing authority officials. That took longer than expected due to intense competition for federal affordable-housing dollars, officials said.
Meanwhile, the redevelopment plan underwent some changes including quadrupling the number of market-rate apartments from 15 to 60.
When completed, Renaissance will break new ground in the community with its side-by-side blending of mixed-income housing and educational facilities, officials said.
This includes an early child development center built by the housing authority, a K-8 charter school built and funded by a nonprofit, and a 14,000-square-foot community building with state-of-the-art technology access for residents, said CHA officials. That community center will be constructed by Laurel Street Residential, which is in charge of building the apartments on the site, CHA officials said.
The housing authority also intends to have access roads linking the project to the adjacent Harris Campus of Central Piedmont Community College, and the nearby Southview Recreational Center. Both will offer programming for Renaissance residents, CHA officials said.
New thinking about housing
Janelle Brown of the Charlotte Housing Authority said more market-rate apartments were added to provide an even mix of incomes.
Having additional market-rate units will help stabilize the community, said Brown, adding that the project represents a new way of thinking for CHA.
In the past, weve only focused on housing and we learned that, in order to spur revitalization, you have to include housing, education and social services. This project provides opportunities from birth to college.
Renaissance, which could cost as much as $65 million, comes at a time when the county is desperately short of affordable homes, experts say. Two different studies have shown Mecklenburg County needs somewhere between 17,000 to 24,000 affordable housing units that rent for $499 a month or less.
Meanwhile, recent surveys showed Mecklenburg Countys homeless families increased by 36 percent in 2010 and 21 percent in 2011. In all, social services agencies estimate there are 5,000 to 6,000 homeless in the county.
An area with a past
Before the Renaissance project, Boulevard Homes was a 301-unit public housing complex with five times more incidents of violent crime than the city average, according to a 2008 city study. It was where Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers John Burnette and Andy Nobles were fatally shot in 1993 as they chased a suspect.
A plan to redevelop the site was first unveiled in 2009, after it won approval of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A year later, HUD announced it was contributing $20.9 million in Hope VI grant money to the project, to which CHA added $9 million. The city has committed $12 million in voter-approved funds to the project.
Nine hundred residents of Boulevard Homes were relocated in 2009-10, and demolition of the 40-year-old apartments began in January 2011.
Pamela Wideman, housing services manager for the city, sees the Renaissance project as a chance to revitalize a key location in Charlotte. The 41 acres sits along the well-traveled West Boulevard between uptown and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
It will be a catalyst for redevelopment, including more businesses around it, said Wideman. It has the ability to transform that corridor, as well as replacing substandard housing.
Construction over the next three years will be led by Laurel Street Residential, which was formerly the affordable-housing development division of Crosland LLC. Dionne Nelson, CEO of Laurel Street, said the apartments will be designed so no one will be able to tell who among the tenants is getting federal rent assistance.
Nelson added that shes trying to speed up the construction process, to get tenants in faster. The family apartments are expected to take their first tenants by August 2013, and those with market-rate rents will go for $700 to $800 a month.
With the educational component, we believe families of all incomes will want access to the community, said Nelson. This is going to create an opportunity for families to move up. You may have rented an apartment as public housing, but you may gain greater stability and move into one of the market-rate homes. We really want to encourage that.