The name Walnut Terrace is going to mean something different in Raleigh from now on. Something different from a housing project for the poor. Something different from an edgy, depressing place where some residents worried about safety. Something different from a place of cramped, run-down apartments, poorly laid out and noisy.
The redevelopment of the old housing project is part of a strategy called HOPE VI, a multibillion-dollar federal program that aims to move away from creating isolated housing projects to building townhomes and apartments with some public housing and other homes at market-rate rents. The idea behind that vision makes sense: A neighborhood will be better for all if it includes people of all different backgrounds.
Indeed, the Walnut Terrace of the future, the Raleigh Housing Authority hopes, will have young professionals, others starting out in their careers and lower-income residents who’ll have new hope with new, better designed surroundings. Most market-rate units will be reserved for households with less than $61,000 in income.
Redevelopment, after all, also can redevelop attitudes. Traditional public housing, not just in Raleigh but virtually everywhere, has too often seen generation after generation settling in. It’s almost as if younger residents don’t see other horizons, don’t develop hope for themselves beyond the “projects.” And the young residents of these communities may not have much contact with people outside that community.
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With neighbors of varied backgrounds, they’ll see more and engage more with those from other places, with stories much different from their own. Perhaps that new neighbor will share music or art with a teen or play ball with them or go to downtown museums with them. For that kind of interaction isn’t a one-way street. Urban professionals who have lived in their own cocoons will get a chance to break out as well.
In too many cities, leaders don’t think outside the box much when it comes to public assistance. But in Raleigh and in many other places, federal programs and enlightened local leadership have joined to make new and better things happen. What better symbol of new hope can there be than watching the rise of new homes and, in the minds of some residents, new starts?
The cost of this rebirth has been $50 million, with 292 townhomes, houses and apartments going up. Gail Keeter, development director for the Raleigh Housing Authority, notes that other such developments in the city, with the same predicted for Walnut Terrace, “not only transformed the sites ... they transformed the neighborhoods.”
The downside is a diminishing stock of public housing. Waiting lists are long, particularly for new units. To its credit, the Raleigh City Council is working on it, but members must act with urgency. Hope in all its incarnations needs to spread.