Alfred Riley III has lived in Charlotte's public housing properties most of his life.
It's been a starkly different experience than that of earlier generations, who often stayed in one place for decades.
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Riley, who said he has a medical disability, has seen dozens of families shuffled among properties as the Charlotte Housing Authority tore down deteriorated communities, replacing them with new ones that have limited space for those who need help with the rent.
Now it could happen again at Boulevard Homes.
“They say it's going to be better,” said Riley, 36, president of Boulevard Homes' Resident Advisory Council. “People get the hope that they can come back. There's a catch. You only stay here five years. Some of us can't afford what they're asking for.”
The Charlotte Housing Authority wants to redevelop the aging Boulevard Homes as mixed-income apartments with a public school as its centerpiece.
The authority is hoping for a partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to bolster its application for a federal Hope VI grant. The same grant brought down four other public housing complexes that concentrated poverty.
The authority would move the 864 residents to CHA properties or other housing, possibly beginning in early 2010.
“It's very, very preliminary, said Charles Woodyard, the authority's president and chief executive. “We would like for this community to contain a lot of things that contribute to a family's ability to move up and out of subsidized housing.”
Redevelopment is a strategy conceived out of need. The 300-unit complex, off West Boulevard near Billy Graham Parkway, has the highest need for improvements among 15 authority-managed public housing properties.
The authority estimates those properties will need nearly $58 million for roofs, plumbing, windows and other improvements by 2015. Of that, $12 million would be spent at Boulevard Homes.
The authority's total budget for all capital improvements is just over $4.2 million a year, so all its public housing properties are vulnerable to neglect.
“The goal is to wipe some of the need off the table,” said Cheryl Campbell, deputy chief operating officer.
That happened when the authority used Hope VI grants to redevelop Earle Village, Dalton Village, Fairview Homes and Piedmont Courts.
Residents who return to mixed-income properties can get a housing subsidy for five years, said Jennifer Gallman, a spokeswoman for the authority. They also participate in programs designed to help them prepare to move out of subsidized housing.
Redevelopment of the 409-unit Earle Village complex as First Ward Place in the early 1990s has been the most successful of the authority's projects, in terms of addressing high crime and concentrated poverty.
Benefiting from its center city location, First Ward Place cleared the way for private residential development.
Today it has a broad mix of incomes in townhomes, single-family residences and elegant condominiums around Seventh and North Davidson streets and in the Garden District, which reaches over to Interstate 277.
“It is a national model,” Woodyard said.
The project did not address the need for affordable housing, which is expected to fall short by 17,000 units by 2010. The housing authority alone can't meet that need, Gallman said.
Unlike First Ward Place, the 38.3-acre Boulevard Homes site wouldn't have the clout of an uptown address. Still, planners believe the right mix of pedestrian-oriented amenities could help it become a more sought-after location.
The authority has offered land to the school system for a school that might serve kindergarten through eighth grades, but it has not presented a proposal to the school board.
A child-care center and access to Central Piedmont Community College's neighboring Harris Campus also are being considered.
“One of the things about communities that evolved earlier on in our country is that the neighborhood and the school and the small businesses were really a part of the community,” Woodyard said. “Everyone had eyes on the children and the community institutions.”
Federal Hope VI grant applications require commitments from financial and community partners.
The housing authority plans to ask the city for help with planning and for an estimated $10 million to $15 million for infrastructure and financing. It estimates the project could generate $12 in investment for every dollar the city invests.
The authority would need to submit its application by about August 2009.
But Boulevard Homes' Riley wonders whether using redevelopment to disperse poverty might simply shift problems elsewhere.
“They're trying to make Charlotte look nice,” Riley said. “If you've got something ugly inside, you need to fix it. Address what's going on in poor communities. You've got people with HIV and AIDS. We've got kids that are dropping out of school like crazy. The school system has failed us so much.”