Changing standards and with them, the neighborhood

September 1, 2013 

Under Austin Simms, the Lexington Housing Authority built Equestrian View on the Bluegrass-Aspendale housing project site.

PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

One of the most exciting parts of my career with the Lexington Housing Authority has been watching the transformation of the East End of Lexington. An area of town most in Lexington chose to avoid because of its dangerous reputation became a neighborhood where children safely walk to school.

Our contribution to these changes really began on Oct. 25, 2005 when we received official approval for a $20 million Hope VI grant from HUD to redevelop the site of the Bluegrass-Aspendale public housing project. This grant guaranteed that the vision our community had for the renaissance of the East End would become a reality.

In many instances, our goal with public and affordable housing is to meet the standard of the neighborhood where we locate our properties. But this redevelopment allowed us to completely change the standards of the neighborhood. Instead of meeting the standard, we raised the bar and surpassed it.

A visitor exploring the area we once knew as Bluegrass-Aspendale will find single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes and garden apartments, and will notice that these elements are often named to reflect the neighborhood's roots in the horse industry. Not only is the subdivision named Equestrian View, we have complexes named Grand Oaks, Bridlewood Place and Triple Crown.

As we planned the development, we did more than choose names to reflect the past. We also worked to express some of the classical details of the surrounding historic neighborhood. To ensure a brighter future, we used environmentally friendly building materials whenever possible, and worked to make sure that energy efficiency was a priority of both multi-family and single-family homes.

Our experience with the redevelopment of the Charlotte Court area into what Lexington now knows as the Arbors gave us the confidence to approach the Bluegrass-Aspendale redevelopment as its master developer.

Many housing authorities that launch redevelopment projects have outside developers bid and complete the redesign of neighborhoods with federal funding. By doing the development ourselves, we kept all of the $20 million in Lexington. This investment had an estimated local economic impact of $99 million.

The Equestrian View subdivision involved the participation of nine local builders. Home sales in the neighborhood totaled $10,580,133. Twenty local real estate companies and 44 local agents were involved in selling these homes, and the agents earned commissions totaling $472,562.25. Of the 175 real-estate transactions produced, 62 were represented by minorities.

We were fortunate that local leadership had a shared vision of what the East End could become. The Housing Authority collaborated with both the school board and the Urban County Government. The commitment and subsequent investment of the school board and the city to deliver the $14.3 million William Wells Brown Elementary in the middle of the redeveloped neighborhood meant that the area automatically became a drug-free zone with more police presence and drastically reduced criminal activity.

The school includes a community center operated by the city's parks department. The center provides programs for young people and senior citizens, as well as programs that promote healthy living and community involvement. Neighborhood businesses also collaborated. For example, Smucker's gave $50,000 to provide a beautiful playground at the school.

The city government invested $2.5 million to improve streets and create better connections to the transportation veins of Lexington. These infrastructure improvements not only provided quick and convenient access to downtown, they meant the area realized itself as connected to the rest of our community.

As part of our agreement, the Lexington Housing Authority provided $1.5 million to the Urban County Government's department of social services to deliver support services to area residents. This was not just a bricks-and-mortar project; our collaborative efforts were an intentional investment in the people of the East End.

Our involvement in the area's renaissance is an extension of our commitment to making sure that Lexington is the best place to live for all of her citizens. We continue to be driven to constantly improve the standards of affordable housing. This development and its success have gained national attention and visits from the leadership of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This kind of notice helps ensure future national investment in Lexington.

I am very excited about the changes we have seen in the past eight years in the East End, and I am proud of the role the Housing Authority has played in the area's revival.

Austin Simms is executive director of the Lexington Housing Authority.

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