The city will pour millions of dollars in the coming years into replacing aging and decrepit buildings, filling lots and improving public services in the neighborhoods east of downtown.
The College Park and South Park neighborhoods are central to the city’s draft five-year plan for improving housing for people with low incomes and disabilities. It’s the first long-term strategy published by Larry Jarvis, the director of the city’s newly rearranged Housing and Neighborhoods department.
Thursday is the final day for public comment on the document, which the Raleigh City Council will consider at an upcoming meeting. Housing affordability and help for homeless people also are priorities.
Raleigh has had plans for Southeast Raleigh for years, some dating back to the 1970s. At times they’ve been referred to as “slum clearance” projects, and they have met skepticism at times from the communities they aim to help.
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East College Park is first on deck. The city’s revitalization efforts have created pockets of new construction, but the years ahead should bring a broader approach.
“The area is very blighted,” the city reported. “... To create significant opportunities for construction of new affordable houses and businesses will be very expensive and take several years.”
The earliest work is nearly underway. This summer, city contractors will begin to replace aging utility pipelines near Raleigh Boulevard, where there are now “severe deficiencies,” the report states.
Improved infrastructure could clear the way for redevelopment south of Oakwood Avenue – and Raleigh is positioned well to direct that development. The city owns almost all of eight blocks, bounded by Hill Street,Waldrop Street, Oakwood Avenue and Boyer Street.
Raleigh has commissioned a study of the real-estate market, which Jarvis says will tell the city what types of residential development might work there. The resulting construction likely will be open to people both below and above the poverty line.
“Obviously what we’ll do in East College Park is primarily affordable housing – but we want to do mixed-income housing, so it’s not limited entirely to affordable housing,” Jarvis said.
A mixing of housing for people with varied incomes is an increasingly common strategy, as evidenced by the nonprofit DHIC’s plans for an “attractive, mixed-income” redevelopment of nearby Washington Terrace. The idea is that a mixture of different income levels can attract better services and stabilize the neighborhood.
The city will pursue similar revitalization plans in South Park, farther south, as the College Park project gets underway.
Across the city, the plan calls for the construction of 450 new rental units, 25 new units for homeowners and the rehabilitation of 125 houses and apartments. That’s actually hundreds fewer units than the city has helped build in the last five years. However, Jarvis said he expects to exceed the estimate.
“We’ll ramp up,” he said. “We will ramp up, significantly.”
Octavia Rainey, long an advocate for better housing in Southeast Raleigh, argues that the plan hasn’t been properly discussed with the community, though the city has held public meetings and hearings about it.
“That consolidated plan has a lot of weight,” she said, referring to the fact that it helps to guide federal spending.
Rainey says that in previous years, the city has done more to encourage discussion. Jarvis said that people were able to weigh in at both the community meetings and the public hearings. The department will continue to accept comments on the plan.
Rainey’s also concerned that the new plan doesn’t specify whether Citizens Advisory Councils will be asked to weigh in on new housing developments and other services. The plan calls for the city to consult interested parties, but staff say it’s not feasible to promise always to talk to specific CACs.
In all, Raleigh expects to put $11 million per year toward its plan, from federal and local sources.
The planners also heard nearly universal calls for more beds in shelters for homeless women, and concerns about the rise of rents near downtown. The number of people living without homes has remained constant, at about 1,300 on a given night, the city reports. The document suggests new center for homeless people.
RHA also is partnering with AT&T to bring free wireless service to public housing communities, according to the plan.