Celebrating new life for an old community

There's a lot of history to this spot – the old Piedmont Courts – but on Tuesday city officials were focused on its promise.

They unveiled 204 new apartments that have replaced the troubled, 1940s-era public housing project at the edge of uptown. The new complex, called Seigle Point, was built with the help of $20 million federal Hope VI grant. It is the city's fourth such grant, designed to build a community that serves the poor without concentrating poverty. Officials hope this new complex will also boost the surrounding Belmont neighborhood.

“Certainly we have changed the environment here in Piedmont Courts for the better,” said N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham, who once represented the area on the city council. “Still, there is work to be done.”

About half the new apartments will be public housing to accommodate some of the city's poorest residents. Other units are reserved for disabled residents and those who make slightly more income, but less than the median for the Charlotte area (about $64,000 for a family of four).

The developer also plans to build about 50 market-rate townhouses on the site.

Seigle Point replaces a 242-home housing project originally built for white World War II veterans. Carol Simpson Miller, who lived in Piedmont Courts in the 1940s, remembers when rent was between $9 and $14 a month, she told the audience at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. She said her neighbors included millworkers, widows who still dressed in black, and families who had lost their money in the Great Depression.

“All the residents seemed like our family,” she said.

DeVondia Roseborough, 37, remembers a very different Piedmont Courts. When she lived there in the 1990s, it had been overcome with drugs and violence, she said. She heard sirens constantly. One incident sticks out in her mind: “I was giving my daughter a bath one evening and gunfire erupted right under the bathroom window,” she said.

But the reduced rent and other housing authority programs allowed Roseborough to go to school and eventually leave public housing, she said. Almost 8 years ago, she became a homeowner through Habitat for Humanity.

“It didn't come easy,” she said.

Officials speaking at the ceremony Tuesday praised the developers, builders and banks that helped build Seigle Point. They noted how Hope VI projects have changed the landscape of the city.

“This is a great testimony of teamwork,” said Councilman James Mitchell.

But U.S. Congressman Mel Watt cautioned the city to be aware of the program's flaws. He pointed out that many families had been displaced from Piedmont Courts while Seigle Point was under construction, and not all would be able to return.

“They're wonderful projects but they have a cost,” he said.

He also called on the city to move its adjacent Central Yard, a maintenance facility where garbage trucks are parked. He and other leaders have long called the garage area a blight on the Belmont community.

“Our communities should be as rich and as vibrant as we can make them,” Watt said Tuesday.