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Hurt Park getting rehab


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Roanoke, Va's most 'ghetto' housing project is poised for major changes.

I used to work for an engineering firm that was planning the redesign of the complex, and I had to go over there a few times. It was scary how much the place had run down. Glad that change is on the way.

From The Roanoke Times, yesterday


Roanoke seeks earful from Hurt Park residents

The housing authority has launched a series of meetings to include community involvement

By John Cramer

The Roanoke Times

It's too late for Margaret Sullivan, who at 65 has lived at Roanoke's Hurt Park public housing complex on and off for nearly three decades with her children and grandchildren.

But Sullivan and some other tenants say a proposed makeover of the rundown facility should include the requirement that young, able-bodied residents work toward self-sufficiency within a few years.

"There should be parenting classes and job training and whatever else it takes to be independent," she said. "If you don't give them [young tenants] something to work for, they're not going to do it."

Under a preliminary proposal by the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the Hurt Park public housing complex and the surrounding Hurt Park neighborhood will undergo a multimillion-dollar makeover.

The plan is in the early stages, so no cost estimates or other specifics have been determined, but authorities and residents envision a makeover that resembles the $41 million renovation of the old Lincoln Terrace public housing complex and the adjacent Washington Park neighborhood in Northwest Roanoke in 2002.

The proposed Hurt Park renovation would be another step in Roanoke's effort to fight blight and to transform its public housing from a permanent dwelling for poor families into a temporary stop on the path to independence.

"We want a good, wholesome environment - no different from any [private] neighborhood in the city," said Earl Reynolds Jr., deputy executive director of the housing authority.

In January, the agency held the first of a series of public meetings to gather suggestions from Hurt Park tenants, nearby homeowners, business owners, Hurt Park Elementary School representatives, city hall staffers, police officers, social service workers and others before deciding on a final renovation plan, Reynolds said.

In past decades, the housing authority made decisions without consulting neighborhood residents. That policy angered thousands of black residents who were forced from their homes during urban renewal from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The housing authority "made mistakes in the past, but our attitude has changed to be more inclusive," Reynolds said. "We acknowledge Hurt Park needs some major work. Now, how we accomplish that - that's what we're all working on now."

The housing authority's board of commissioners decided last year to overhaul Hurt Park, a 105-unit complex that has had no major renovations since it was built in 1967 between Salem Avenue and the railroad tracks that separate Southwest and Northwest Roanoke.

Authorities hope to adopt a conceptual plan this summer and a final plan late this year and to break ground in spring 2006. The cost is expected to be millions of dollars that come from local, state and federal coffers, tax credit financing, public and private grants and other sources.

The Hurt Park renovation is expected to resemble the "Lincoln 2000" program, which overhauled the old Lincoln Terrace housing complex, now called the Villages at Lincoln, and improved the Washington Park neighborhood. Much of the Lincoln renovation, which was completed in 2002, was funded by a federal government grant program that no longer exists.

The Lincoln program replaced aging apartments with homes that have porches, air-conditioning and other amenities. The program also requires Lincoln tenants to become self-sufficient in five years through the housing authority's Upward Mobility through Public Housing program. Disabled and elderly tenants are exempt.

The program offers education, job training, support groups, employment assistance, a business development initiative, homeownership counseling, and child care and transportation assistance. The same self-sufficiency requirements may be adopted at Hurt Park.

Norma Smith, a homeowner who has lived near the Hurt Park complex for decades, commended the housing authority for including neighborhood residents in the decision-making.

"I hope it turns out like [the Villages at] Lincoln. Hurt Park is one of the highest poverty pockets in Roanoke, but there's no reason to keep it that way," she said.

Jimmy Cook, a nearby homeowner for 50 years, said the Hurt Park complex should be replaced by a complex that includes a few modern multifamily buildings but mostly affordable single-family homes. He said Hurt Park tenants should be required to become self-sufficient.

"People can feel good about owning their own homes instead of paying rent all the time," he said.

However, Cook is like many older Roanokers who remember urban renewal: He does not trust the housing authority.

"It's good they're having these [public] meetings, but I feel they've already decided what they want to do," he said.

Robbie Crenshaw, a tenant leader who has lived at Hurt Park for four years, said she and her neighbors want modern kitchens, updated heating, air-conditioning and back or side doors to their apartments, which currently only have front doors. She also said she hopes the renovation resembles the work done at the Villages at Lincoln.

Crenshaw, who is studying for a master's degree in business administration, praised the housing authority for seeking residents' opinions and for planning to boost self-sufficiency programs.

"We're the ones living here and we know what needs to be done," she said. "I think the housing authority is being honest with us. My sense is most other people do, too."

Sullivan, who remembers how neighborhood residents were ignored during urban renewal, said she hopes the proposed Hurt Park makeover will turn out differently.

"I hope the housing authority backs up what it says or there will be a lot of heartache to have put in all this work and have nothing come of it," she said. "I think they should just tear it all down and rebuild it from scratch."

For more information about upcoming Hurt Park renovation meetings, call the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority at 983-9281.

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