BY MARIE McCAIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LINCOLN HEIGHTS -- Straddling Medosch Avenue in Lincoln Heights, Valley Homes is an orderly complex of wood-frame town houses and apartments built when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and most appliances ran on hand power.
Armillar and Leroy Harris moved into Valley Homes after World War II.
(Tony Jones photo)
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More than 50 years have passed since returning GIs moved in to work in neighboring plants. The 350 units house one-third of Lincoln Heights' 4,800 residents. After constant use, the units are falling apart.
The electrical system can't meet demands. The plumbing backs up. The asphalt is cracked and bumpy. Lawns are overgrown and unkempt.
While the complex may be deteriorating, Valley Homes' sense of community and pride is not.
Residents want to save it, and for the first time in a long history of independent management, they are turning to the federal government in hopes of receiving as much as $15 million to revive Valley Homes. They may learn today if a $12,000 planning grant will be approved to pay for site plans and structural assessments.
Village officials, Valley Homes managers and residents have banded together to apply for help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"This is the first time the Valley Homes is going to have to go outside itself to get help," property manager Joan Thompson said. "We have always been self-sufficient, but it's impossible for us to get where we want to be without (HUD's) cooperation.
Louistine Tuck, HUD's senior community builder - coordinator for Cincinnati, said the agency is aware of the group's interest and is willing to help with its revitalization plans.
But Ms. Tuck cautions that $15 million is a lot of money for a HUD grant, considering that in 1997, Hamilton County received $4 million and Cincinnati received $26 million.
The Valley Homes hopes to tap into more than $3 billion HUD has available for housing and housing improvement programs. Lincoln Heights Mayor Lovey B. Andrews learned of the funds during a trip to Washington, D.C., when she was exploring resources for her village.
Stella Sherman, president of the Valley Homes Board of Trustees, sees the grant as a way to return the development to its original stature as decent, affordable housing.
Mrs. Sherman moved to Valley Homes with her parents in the 1940s,when she was 9 years old. She remembers it as a beautiful little community with grass-bordered streets and houses lined with shrubbery.
Each home was new, almost quaint in its simplicity, and residents took the time to know and help each other.
Created by the federal government, the Valley Homes development was supposed to be only temporary housing. Workers building plane parts at General Electric for World War II needed a place nearby to stay. But after the war, many veterans took jobs at the plant and moved into Valley Homes.
A window in a vacant apartment frames residents Charles Battle, Stella Sherman, Joyce Hawkins and Harold Thomas.
(Tony Jones photo)
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In 1954, residents decided to incorporate. They created the Valley Homes Mutual Housing Corp. and made it permanent housing.
Part of Valley Homes' uniqueness is that it has its own power system independent of Cinergy. But as the years passed and technology improved, the complex's electrical grid began breaking down.
Air conditioners, microwave ovens, stereo systems and televisions began gulping electricity and straining the system, which still contains original wiring. Outages are infrequent yet irritating.
"There isn't enough power to go around," Mrs. Sherman said. The plumbing is also more than 50 years old and that means "there are always backups."
The 350 apartments -- flats, two- and three-bedroom town houses -- in 53 buildings are spread across 32 acres.
Some residents rent, but 149 own their apartments.
Each owner is considered a shareholder in Valley Homes Townhouses Inc. and has a membership agreement and an occupancy agreement, designating the owner and survivors as lifelong occupants for as long as the family owns an apartment.
Officials first looked into a total revamping of the complex a few years ago.
In 1996, with the help of Creative Housing Solutions Inc., a private Cincinnati-based architectural consulting firm, and based on inspections of approximately 10 percent of each unit type, Valley Homes put together a 56-page comprehensive needs assessment.
Recommendations included upgrading the electrical and plumbing systems, roof replacement, asbestos testing and abatement, termite testing and abatement, paving repair, appliance replacement, entry and storm-door replacement, window replacement and exterior lighting upgrades.
The report said more than $13.2 million would be needed to complete all the required improvements through 2000.
Mrs. Sherman already has a vision of the new Valley Homes:
"I see tot-lots with swings for play areas, updated baseball fields for the children, shelters with benches for the bus stops. I want aluminum siding on the houses, and an entrance gate that has shrubs around it.
New electrical wiring, plumbing, paint. . . . It needs just about everything," she said.
"It's a great asset to Lincoln Heights. It's our home."
Longtime residents say help means hope