After almost five years of development, the construction fences have come down at the former site of Lexington's Bluegrass-Aspendale public housing, and the last two stages of the area of new homes and apartments are nearly ready for their first occupants.
With an initial $20 million federal Hope VI grant, the Lexington Housing Authority has leveraged more than $80 million in investments to redevelop Bluegrass-Aspendale, Lexington's first public-housing community.
"We got creative with our funding," said Barry Holmes, procurement and development manager with the Housing Authority.
Dilapidated, densely packed housing has been replaced by spacious streets and copious greenspace in the area between Third and Seventh Streets, bordered by Race Street and Magnolia Avenue.
Never miss a local story.
At its height, more than 900 government-subsidized rental units packed Bluegrass-Aspendale. Around 400 new units, including homes and rental property, fill the footprint now.
Stone facades and colorful, hardy siding adorn the units, replacing the brick and vinyl-sided structures of yesteryear. Builders have constructed units in several architectural styles, including Victorian, Colonial and Williamsburg.
The Lexington city government invested $6 million to pave streets and improve William Wells Brown Elementary school, which sits in the middle of the development.
"The east end of downtown Lexington has been waiting for change for many years. Now, it's here," Mayor Jim Newberry said.
The public unveiling
Beginning Thursday, the Housing Authority will host a three-day grand opening event. The public will be able to tour the homes and participate in a street carnival. A dedication ceremony is scheduled for Friday.
The development is divided into several neighborhoods. Some of the houses are for sale and other units are part of a government-subsidized rental program.
The homes for sale are not explicitly subsidized by the government; however government-owned lots were divided and sold to eight local construction companies at a discount. The lots, which are valued at around $25,000, were sold for $12,000, Holmes said.
Homeowners must sign a covenant agreement stating that they will live there for at least five years. If they move out or sell the house early, they have to repay that $13,000 discount.
"The government won't allow us to pass their land off to ... speculators," Holmes said. "Without that five-year covenant, people would come in and buy it and just flip it."
And while people at any income level can purchase the homes, those at or below 80 percent of Fayette County's $50,325 median household income level will be eligible for down payment assistance.
There will eventually be 102 homes for sale, with a listed price of $80,000 to $120,000. Currently, 37 have been built, and 18 have been sold. Holmes said five to 10 more families are expected to close on their homes soon.
However, no previous Bluegrass-Aspendale residents have purchased a home in the new development.
James Davis, who rents property without government assistance on Wilson Street, was one of the last residents to leave Bluegrass-Aspendale. He said he was still unhappy about his eviction.
Davis said Bluegrass-Aspendale residents were told they would be first pick to be tenants in the new developments, but even though the new homes are low-income, they are still out of reach for most previous residents, he said.
"If you don't have the money to buy a house up there, then you don't get there," he said. "Half the people that lived up there, they was barely making rent."
Holmes said two or three previous Bluegrass-Aspendale residents were undergoing home-ownership counseling with REACH, a local non-profit dedicated to making housing more affordable.
For those who can't afford the homes, or who simply don't want them, 292 rental units will be opened in late June. However, all tenants except the elderly and the disabled have to adhere to "self-sufficiency rules," Holmes said.
Rent will vary based on the tenant's income level, but all renters have to maintain a job or be enrolled in school. Renters will be given a grace period if they lose their job, but if they don't report their job loss, they may be evicted.
"If you come in and tell us, we can adjust your rent. If you don't tell us, your rent doesn't change," Holmes said.
Renters will be recertified every year to ensure they meet self-sufficiency guidelines.
Jill Chenault Wilson, director of the William Wells Brown community center, said the new development puts a modern spin on the way Bluegrass-Aspendale used to be.
Wilson's parents lived there during the World War II era, and they remembered it as a place where neighbors disciplined each other's kids, helped each other out with rent and shared food and meals.
"It was just a close-knit neighborhood. Everyone was in the struggle together, just trying to maintain and survive," she said.
Former Lexington police chief Anthany Beatty and his wife, Dr. Eunice Beatty, grew up in the area in the 1950s and 1960s, when a fence still divided the areas for whites and blacks.
"Neither one of us would take anything for the education we got and the experience we got, even though it was a segregated community," he said.
Beatty said the family-friendly area began to change in the 1970s and 1980s as more single-parent households took root and drug use became more prevalent.
For the last 20 years of its life, Bluegrass-Aspendale was viewed by the community as a hotbed for drug and violent crimes, but even those who stayed put until the last 300 units were demolished in 2006 said there was much to love about the area.
Fannie Silverberg, who now lives on Wilson Street, said the neighborhood was so close-knit that criminals were never at large for long.
"You had crime there. You have crime everywhere," she said. "Everybody knew everybody, so when something happened, everybody knew who did it."
Silverberg's mother, Gladys Showers, raised eight children at Bluegrass-Aspendale. She said she missed her friends, who have all dispersed since the demolition.
"We was happy," said Showers, 89. "I lived long, and I lived good."