By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEWPORT - Newport embarks today on an ambitious plan to transform and ultimately eliminate public housing while opening valuable riverfront land for development.
Armed with a $28 million federal HOPE VI housing grant, officials will break ground on Liberty Row I, a 14-unit, $2.4 million on West Eighth Street near Isabella Street and Central Avenue.
The project is expected to be completed in about seven months. It is the first phase of the city's plan to move residents out of 202 public housing units near the Ohio and Licking rivers and into new and rehabilitated homes and apartments scattered throughout the city.
"People are warehoused where they are now," said Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli, a board member of the Newport Housing Authority, which is overseeing of the grant.
"There are no services down there, no stores near them. They are really separated from the community. The HOPE VI grant gives us the resources to integrate those people in the community, raise the level of our housing stock through rehabilitation projects and gives us an interjection of new quality housing in the city."
The grant also provided money for what Guidugli described as "self-sufficiency" programs, such as job training for public housing residents
Most of the programs have been run through Brighton Center of Newport, one of Northern Kentucky's best-known and most respected service agencies.
Eighty-percent of public housing residents in Newport are working, he said.
Plans are already under way for a second phase of the Liberty Row project, and existing properties are being reviewed for rehabbing, said George Darnell, the authority's HOPE VI grant coordinator.
Residents will have to reapply for housing, but the goal is to work with people so they can buy their own homes, Darnell said.
The housing authority's plan calls for razing all the public housing units north of Fourth Street and over the next few years move those residents into 313 units elsewhere in Newport.
The city will have a prime piece of riverfront property to continue the development that began with Riverboat Row and Newport on the Levee projects.
"This grant allows us to put people into a city neighborhood rather than a barracks," Darnell said.
"Part of the idea behind this grant is to move people into mixed-income neighborhoods where they are living near everyday people who are carrying a mortgage.''
Newport is the smallest city to receive the HOPE VI grant, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It is also the first city to move residents from public housing and integrate them into neighborhoods.
"Other places have used the grant to tear down housing and then build new housing in the same location," Guidugli said.
"We're the first not to do it that way, and I'm convinced that's one of the reasons we received the money."
The city enlisted high-profile assistance three years ago to qualify for the money.
They worked state and federal contacts, from Gov. Paul Patton and his chief of staff, Crit Luallen, to President Clinton.
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