Raleigh's Walnut Terrace will be torn down

Staff WriterMarch 25, 2011 

  • The federal Hope VI program began in 1992 and is designed to transform the worst public housing into mixed-income neighborhoods. Projects rarely include apartments. Rather, they feature houses, row houses and duplexes. Hope VI is sometimes criticized for not creating as much housing for the poor in its pursuit of a range of incomes.

— To thousands of Raleigh's poorest families, the brick barracks of Walnut Terrace were cramped and crumbling, cold in the winter, boiling in the summer, overrun by spiders and often the scene of gun play.

Still, hundreds say they will miss the public housing complex that now stands empty, ready to be demolished as soon as crews clear out the asbestos.

As part of a $50 million project, Walnut Terrace will be torn down, then rebuilt as a new kind of community that will mirror those that replaced the Halifax Court and Chavis Heights public housing complexes, said Allison Hapgood of the Raleigh Housing Authority.

Walnut Terrace is the last of Raleigh's aging, dormitory-style neighborhoods built to house the poor by the hundreds.

Residents from the 53-year-old complex have either scattered to other public housing in Raleigh or taken federal vouchers to pay for private homes. But many of them say they can't wait to return when Walnut Terrace is remade in the new model for Raleigh: a mixed-income community with a range of housing styles.

"That is the first place my youngest child knew as home," said Octavia McLamb, who has moved to Garner. "Even though there was fights, and some shooting, Walnut Terrace was a good community. Even though people say that it is the ghetto or whatever. And hopefully, when they build it back up, I will be able to move back."

Built in 1958, Walnut Terrace was tucked off Martin Luther King Boulevard in a way that drew criticism for keeping the housing project hidden. Its 300 units had no central heating or air-conditioning and no access for the disabled.

The complex saw numerous shootings, including a 14-year-old boy fatally shot in the head in 2008. Even more infamous were the mother and infant who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their apartment in 1992, and the lawsuits that followed.

Still, Walnut Terrace drew more than 3,000 people to a reunion in 2004. Those who came said they wanted to show that even though they came from the projects, they could make it.

Sarah Turner spent 20 years in those brick units. "We did hate to see it go," she said. "It's been there so long."

New units' promise

For the housing authority, the focus now is moving past the squat and outdated housing of past decades.

The new Walnut Terrace will have 308 units, mixing:

Public housing units for residents earning no more than 30 percent of the median income;

Senior citizen units;

Market-rate units for those earning 80 percent of the median or below.

Plans call for a community center with on-site job training offered by Wake Technical Community College.

But much hinges on a pending Hope VI grant for roughly $22 million. Such federal grants are designed to replace old-style public housing with mixed-income neighborhoods. The housing authority used such grants to tear down and revamp Chavis Heights and Halifax Court, now known as Capitol Park.

Walnut Terrace would be the third to fall. A Facebook page holds tributes to all three complexes: Walnut Terrace nicknamed WTC or "The Terrace," Chavis Heights as "Chabba Heights" and Halifax Court as "The Bricks."

Among the posts you find there: My hood forever. Gone but not forgotten. So many people at the bottom.

"It's sad, but it's exciting," Hapgood said.

The housing authority will move ahead with the demolition and construction even if the Hope VI money doesn't come through, though construction will take longer and the project would be smaller.

Meanwhile, many of the old Walnut Terrace residents, Sarah Turner included, have moved to Washington Terrace, a private development near St. Augustine's College.

"Now we have to look at what kind of resources we can bring into Washington Terrace, like parenting programs, senior programs," said Octavia Rainey, an activist there. "If you're not working with people, they bring these problems with them."

In Garner, Octavia McLamb remembers the $50 rent she paid, utilities included. She knows the new Walnut Terrace won't be the same, but she hopes it still feels like home.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or 919--829-4818

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