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Federal grant funds KHRA plan to revitalize area near Lee Apartments

Matthew Lane • Mar 2, 2013 at 10:35 AM

KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority has received $300,000 in federal funds to craft a redevelopment plan for the Midtown section of town, with the eventual goal being to revitalize the public housing at Robert E. Lee Apartments and the surrounding neighborhoods.

In October, the KHRA received a $300,000 planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative program. The KHRA is one of 17 entities across the U.S. that received a CNI planning grant with the funding going toward creating a comprehensive, community-driven plan to revitalize public or other HUD-assisted housing and transform distressed neighborhoods.

The CNI was put into place by the Obama administration and essentially replaces and expands upon the HOPE VI program.

Kingsport received an $11.9 million HOPE VI grant in October 2006 and used those funds, along with other monies, to redevelop the Riverview community and build affordable houses along Sherwood and Hiwassee.

But whereas the HOPE VI program sought to improve smaller neighborhoods within a community, the CNI program is broader in scope, with a much larger neighborhood within the study area. In addition to improving housing options, the program also looks at other issues within the study area such as transportation, education, health and safety.

“It’s a two-year planning grant and allows you to plan for revitalizing a neighborhood. (The plan) involves a larger neighborhood and includes a targeted property — Lee Apartments,” said Doris Ladd, director of HOPE VI and redevelopment.

Lee Apartments is Kingsport’s oldest public housing development (built in 1939-1940) and the second largest one in the city (128 units). The four-acre development is bounded by Sevier Avenue and Dale Street near the Salvation Army and is home to more than 200 people.

The planning area for this CNI grant is being dubbed the Midtown area with the boundaries being the Greenbelt on the north, Center Street on the south, Piedmont and Dorothy on the east and Church Circle on the west. The area includes Lee Apartments, Cloud Apartments and the Holston Valley Medical Center.

Ladd said the planning grant has three core goals to address: housing, people and the neighborhood. The housing element looks to create or revitalize distressed public and assisted housing; the people element will look at issues relating to health, safety, employment, mobility and education; while the neighborhood element will seek to transform neighborhoods of poverty into viable, mixed-income neighborhoods.

What will come out of two years of work and planning will be a comprehensive transformation plan, basically a road map, for how the Midtown area and Lee Apartments will be revitalized, Ladd said.

The KHRA has partnered with Urban Collage of Lexington, Ky., and TCGI of Washington, D.C., to create the transformation plan. Ladd said Urban Collage drew the boundaries for the area, which the KHRA has now dubbed “Midtown.”

HUD officials held site visits earlier this month with members of the KHRA and the targeted area, to get a feel for what the neighborhood looks like and of the general support for the planning project. Susan LaGuardia, executive director of Kingsport Tomorrow, has volunteered to chair the Lee Apartments resident committee to help get residents engaged in the planning process.

“We need (residents’) involvement because they would be helping to develop what they will expect to get out of this,” Ladd said. “The involvement of the community will determine what the transformation plan becomes.”

The KHRA has until October 2014 to complete the plan, which would then be submitted in an application to HUD for an implementation grant, such as the city received back in 2006.

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