In West Louisville, Nonprofit’s Small Developer Loans Target Vacant Properties Thursday, Nov 14 2019 

The mostly African American neighborhoods of west Louisville were intentionally cut off from investment and homeownership due to decades of discriminatory policies. But these days, there’s a lot of capital going into that area, especially in Russell. Part of that neighborhood has a median income of just slightly more than $9,000.

LHOME, a local nonprofit lender, says it wants to put more capital in the hands of west Louisville residents, many of whom have some of the lowest incomes in the county and suffer from a lack of affordable housing. Its new small developer loans product aims to help people who live in those neighborhoods renovate vacant and abandoned properties for their own use or to rent out affordably.

At an annual meeting on Tuesday, CEO Amy Shir said organizations like LHOME — a Community Development Financial Institution, which is a private lender that lends money to low-income people — weren’t created to fix historic problems like redlining, but they are part of the solution.

“CDFIs were created to provide access to capital for people who were purposefully, intentionally and wrongfully excluded from the economic mainstream,” she said. “Providing access to capital does not solve all of society’s problems. But it is a critical tool for social, racial and economic justice.”

Last month, LHOME launched its business loan product aimed at small developers, with half a million dollars set aside to give loans of up to $30,000. Shir said the loans are aimed at people with a “certain level of sophistication,” perhaps those who have renovated houses before.

One early recipient is Marcus Harris, who runs a nonprofit organization called Pride Leadership Academy where he teaches kids different skills in areas like construction, agriculture and sustainability. He said at the event a loan from LHOME will help him work on a house he bought this year. Previously, he struggled to get loans because he didn’t have a proven track record.

“Having somebody that trusted in us just gave us the opportunity and the resources … to actually get out and do what we needed to create our own sustainability to kind of fund some of the programs that will help us change the community for real,” he said.

Shir said the nonprofit’s preference is to have neighborhood residents invested in these types of properties, rather than outsiders.

“It keeps the culture of the neighborhood for the people who have lived there for generations. If we allow outside speculators to buy up all the properties and own all the stuff, and then drive up the property taxes then the people who have lived in those neighborhoods, who built those neighborhoods, the churches, all the fabric is undermined because people are displaced,” she said.

But can LHOME’s small developer loan product keep people in their neighborhoods? Urban development researcher James Fraser, who has studied gentrification in Nashville, thinks there’s a chance.

“This is a type of program that sounds like it has the potential to create some positive neighborhood change in terms of decreasing for example, abandoned buildings or vacant buildings,” he said.

He said there probably aren’t any direct downsides to LHOME’s small developer loans program, and abandoned buildings clearly have a negative impact on many residents in low-income neighborhoods. But he warned that if lots of these types of efforts happen at once, neighborhoods can change before residents realize it.

“And all of a sudden the neighborhood is viewed by capital investors as a place where they can place their money to make a profit,” he said, “then there have to be additional resources put in play for folks that live there.”

Fixing up vacant buildings can contribute to rising property values, property taxes and rent. And that can make it more difficult for people to continue affording to live in their neighborhoods.

Shir said she is working on an advocacy campaign to encourage state legislators to cap property values for west Louisville residents. State law currently prohibits Louisville from making that kind of change, though it’s something Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has said he has asked for, too. Rent control, another measure some say protects low-earners from rising housing costs, is also illegal in Kentucky.

Regardless, changing the law can take years. And current west Louisville residents say they’re already seeing their neighborhoods change and become less affordable.

Fraser said intervention is needed.

“There needs to be a suite of having related policies that respond to the challenges that low income families face in the area,” he said. “So it’s not only about say, property tax increases, it’s not only about rent price increases, possibly, but it’s really also about making sure that multifamily apartment buildings remain affordable for people.”

Louisville’s eviction rate is nearly double the national average, and without protective policies in place, Fraser said the cumulative effect of developer loans like LHOME’s could have an unintended consequence: forcing people out of their homes.

As Another Russell Project Begins, Gentrification Concerns Prevalent Wednesday, Sep 25 2019 

A group of vacant warehouses near 30th and Muhammad Ali in the Russell neighborhood could soon be given new life.

The city acquired the properties in 2017. Now, officials are looking for ideas on how to redevelop the 220,000 square feet contained therein.

It’s the latest project in a string of massive investments going into Russell, a neighborhood in west Louisville that has long lacked commercial development as a result of racist government policies. That fact, along with the renewed interest, has raised concerns among residents and public officials about gentrification and subsequent displacement.

Mariah Washington lives near the vacant warehouses. The 19-year-old said she would like to see something nice for the kids in her neighborhood, who have to contend with the dangers of gun violence. Washington would like to see something fun for them. A waterpark, perhaps.

“I want it to be this to be a place where kids can actually come and be involved in life and help them grow to something better,” she said.

At the same time, she said she is worried about the possibility of rents going up a concern other Russell residents share as well.

Washington said she hopes the redevelopment won’t raise rents, push people out and let outsiders “take over” more of her neighborhood.

She was one of a few local residents who attended a small press conference Wednesday afternoon, where city officials announced a donation of services by global design consultancy Arcadis, which has an office in Louisville. That agency has completed a 3D scan of the buildings, which the city can use like a blueprint to develop future plans.

Washington believes Russell residents should be a part of those plans. She is planning to gather her neighbors’ ideas and present them to the leaders of Russell: A Place of Promise. That’s an initiative run in partnership with the city, which will gather community feedback for the project through a door-knocking campaign and at a public meeting on Oct. 4 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Roosevelt-Perry Elementary School.

“This is our home,” Washington said. “I feel like we should be able to be comfortable with where we live and not feel like everything is just being changed and one day, they’re going to end up getting rid of us.”

Amina Elahi | wfpl.org

A view of the construction at the site of the planned Louisville Urban League Sports and Learning Complex.

The vacant warehouses are just across the street from another major project, the sports complex planned by the Louisville Urban League. Work on that site is now underway after last month’s groundbreaking, and the project has raised about half its funding.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is promoting investment in west Louisville as part of his economic development platform for the city. On Wednesday, he said the city is working on policies to prevent displacement amid that influx. However, his office has not yet released any concrete plans to achieve that.

Learn more about Fischer’s perspective on preventing displacement in this episode of the WFPL podcast Here Today:

Victory Park Renovations Complete With Community Input Friday, Jul 19 2019 

Norman Parker says he remembers a time when Louisville was tearing out the playgrounds and benches in the parks around the California neighborhood.

But on Friday — more than a decade later — Mayor Greg Fischer, the Olmstead Conservancy and neighbors cut the ribbon on a $1.1 million revitalization project at Victory Park in that neighborhood.

The 4.4 acre park now boasts a new playground, splash pad, walking path, basketball court and other amenities.

Parker was among community leaders who helped guide the project.

“The park is the heartbeat of the neighborhood,” Parker said. “And so to be a part of what it is now, to see them making investments, and to see them making it where the kids can come and play, that alone speaks to the change of the neighborhood.”

With funding from community partners, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy and Louisville Parks and Recreation worked with neighbors to design a park for the neighborhood, by the neighborhood.

Residents had a hand at nearly every point in the decision-making process, Parker said.

“What Olmsted went in and implemented was what the community voiced their opinion on,” he said.

The improvements at Victory Park are part of the city’s larger plan to reinvest in west Louisville. Fischer said that includes about a billion dollars in investment — the most in generations.

“I think in many ways this renovation is a reminder of what’s going on in west Louisville these days,” he said.

Victory Park is also just one of a number of other parks that have recently received, or are undergoing renovations. New playgrounds are being installed or were recently installed at Boone Square, Algonquin and Elliott Square Park.

Tyler Park in east Louisville is currently undergoing its own $1.1 million renovation. Last year, workers completed the Bonnycastle Pavilion at Cherokee Park.

Parker also said the changes at Victory Park underscore the progress the city has made in the West End. People are already using the park more than in the past, he said.

And he says that’s important, because the park is a community space.

“The park is where people come together in times when they’re sad, happy, celebrating, mourning,” Parker said. “No matter what we’re dealing with, whether it’s a loss, a death, a celebration of life, a birth, we utilize the park.”

Project donors included the Humana Foundation, James Graham Brown Foundation, Kosair Charities and PNC Foundation, Brown Forman Foundation and GE Appliances.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org