Sunday, August 06, 2000

Housing plan has skeptics

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The Newport Housing Authority has $28 million to launch a new affordable housing program for the city, but the plan still is getting a skeptical glance from business owners and low-income housing advocates.

[photo] This complex, part of the Newport Housing Authority, will be demolished as part of a plan to build new homes.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        The federal Hope VI grant, announced last week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will enable the Housing Authority, working with city officials, to eventually demolish the 202-unit housing project on Fourth Street and build 313 new and rehabilitated mixed-income housing units around the city.

        Marla Sandfoss, who with husband Mark owns Detroit Joe's Restaurant on Ninth Street, said she thinks the idea of moving people from the housing project to scattered sites is good.

        “These people are isolated from the rest of the city, and I didn't feel that's right,” she said. “They should be able to live where they can. And I can see how that property (housing project) on the river is ideal for development.

        “However, 50 units on a corner in the central business zone? Come on. We have a lot of undeveloped property in this city that is more suitable for this type of project. There is ample land that could be developed for residential.”

        Mrs. Sandfoss was talking about a portion of the proposal that would convert the vacant building on the northwest corner of Ninth and Monmouth to a 50-unit mixed-income development that would include market-priced apartments as well as Section 8 federally subsidized housing.

        The Hope VI application from the housing authority, approved by HUD for $28 million, calls for a total of 313 housing units, including 150 public housing units, 67 affordable units that would meet the needs of those just below a specified median income level, and 96 market-rate units, which would include 69 for home ownership. The average market rate home would sell for $173,000.

        Peter Garrett, who owns a gunsmithing business on Monmouth Street just north of the Ninth and Monmouth building, said he wanted to see the Hope VI project succeed if it would be good for the city and for businesses.

        “But I have to say I have some doubts,” he said. “I wish the city a lot of luck. But in the case of the building next to me, I just can't see some people paying top dollar for upscale apartments in the same building with people who are paying much less and being subsidized.”

        Joan Weingartner, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Housing and Homeless Coalition in Covington, said she had re viewed the Hope VI application document and had some questions.

        “Our principal concern is a decrease in the number of affordable units being bought out by the development projects,” she said. “These projects aren't a bad thing, but it appears the net effect is a reduction of affordable housing.”

        She said one of the areas initially identified for development under the project is a large portion of 13th Street, which includes some vacant lots as well as older housing units.

        “I haven't been able to determine exactly how many housing units would be removed on 13th Street, but it could be about 60,” Ms. Weingartner said.

        Not everyone now living in the Fourth Street housing project will be able to take advantage of the Hope VI program, and some may not wish to go to another form of housing.

        But Housing Authority executive director Mark Brown emphasized that, “We guarantee that the residents will have a place to go before we move them off-site.” The Newport Housing Residents Association approved the Hope IV application before it was submitted for approval.

        Mr. Brown said the housing program has identified nine possi ble sites for relocation, including 13th Street. The city and the Housing Authority can use eminent domain to obtain property if necessary.

        “But it has never been our intention to tear down good quality housing,” he said. “And we are dependent on what the property is worth and what we can pay.”

        The site of the housing project, bordered by Fourth Street, Central Avenue, the flood wall and the Fourth Street Bridge over the Licking River, will become a development project of its own when the current structures are demolished.

        The entire project, including relocation of residents, demolition, and the start of a new development, could take up to five years but will likely be accomplished sooner.

        There has been nothing put forth officially by the Housing Authority or city officials regarding a development plan or a developer. But there has been behind-the-scenes discussion of a possible residential/commercial complex including condominiums, office space and shops.        

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