Thursday, September 30, 2004

A home of their own

Low-income people can buy through program

By Mike Rutledge
Enquirer staff writer

Don Taylor (left) and Tim Donnelly install trim on the porch of a home in the Liberty Row development. It is the first development in Newport funded by the federal Hope VI program.
Photos by PATRICK REDDY/The Enquirer
Melody Slade (center) hugs Beth Schweinzger in the entrance of Slade's new home on West Eighth Street in Newport.

NEWPORT - Melody Slade hasn't yet moved into the first home she will ever own, but her husband already has one chore: Paint the kitchen yellow.

After 16 years of living in the Newport Housing Authority's projects, "we can paint the walls the color we like," she said Wednesday. "I want my kitchen yellow."

Melody, 48, and her husband, Ken Slade, 63, this week became the first people to buy a Newport home built through the federal Hope VI program. Their new three-bedroom, 11/2 -bathroom brick Italianate house awaits in the 200 block of West Eighth Street. It's part of the 14-home Liberty Row project, a combined venture of the city and housing authority.

Hope VI replaces large, often ugly, housing projects with smaller, more attractive, clusters of public housing that are more dispersed among city neighborhoods.

The Slades are the start of a trend: By late 2008, Newport Housing Authority officials hope to finish building or renovating 327 Hope VI homes across Newport - 195 that will be rented out and 132 that will be sold to people with low or moderate incomes.

Many of those renters and buyers will be people like Ken and Melody Slade now occupying the 202 Newport Housing Authority units of the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, north of Fourth Street.

The construction is estimated to cost $70 million to $80 million, said George Darnell, the housing authority's Hope VI director. It will be funded largely through a $28 million federal Hope VI grant, low-income tax credits and the sale of housing authority land where the 202 old housing units are located, he said.

George Darnell, the housing authority's Hope VI director, said several other Newport Hope VI projects should move quickly:

• Liberty Row II, across Eighth Street from Liberty Row, which is between Central Avenue and Isabella Street. Liberty Row II will have at least 40 units - at least 26 rentals and 14 that will be sold.

• Corpus Christi Church, at Ninth and Isabella streets, will have 20 apartments for the elderly.

• Saratoga Corridor, which will have 30-36 rental and owner-occupied units on Saratoga, between Sixth and Seventh streets.

"We're working some other ones that we can't talk about yet," Darnell said. "Those are the other ones that are out there that we're actually moving quite fast.

Diana Pack, the Louisville-based Hope VI grants manager for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, calls Hope VI "a very successful program in improving quality of life for people who live in public housing."

In the mid-20th century, the federal government warehoused people in large, inexpensive developments with the thought that they would live there only temporarily.

Instead, some families are on their third and fourth generations in projects, and "they know nothing else," Pack said.

By scattering subsidized housing through cities, children will notice their neighbors waking up at 6 a.m., working 40 or more hours a week, and improving their lives through hard work, Pack said.

"Oftentimes in the old, conventional, obsolete housing projects, the children never saw that," Pack said. "So they many times didn't believe there was another way out, other than some sort of illicit criminal activity that might get them a lot of money fast."

The Slades have lived in the Newport projects since 1988, and said they never felt unsafe there. They could remember only two or three shootings during that period, they said.

"I wouldn't say we took the opportunity to escape, but it did give us the opportunity to move on, to become homeowners - to move up," Ken Slade said Wednesday. "My wife's always wanted to own her own home, and this offered us a perfect opportunity."

On Tuesday, the couple closed the purchase of their $116,000 home, which cost about $160,000 to build. The rest was made up by a Hope VI, 10-year second mortgage, which the couple will not need to repay if they live there a decade.

After Tuesday's closing, they went back to the empty house, and noticed things felt different.

"It was not a real strong feeling that slapped you in the face," Ken Slade said. "But - it was ours."

To start making the housing authority's site north of Fourth Street available for sale by June 2006, "We'll quit renting here in around January (2005)," Darnell said. The timeline for completing all 327 units is December 2008, he said.

While Ken Slade is happy to have a home he owns, he's sentimental about the place he'll be leaving.

"I kind of hate to see these apartments go, because they're so useable," he said. "There's nothing structurally wrong with these buildings.

"The bottom line is we're down here by the river, and riverfront development, that's the thing," Slade said.

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