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Davistown families move into new homes

Hazel Lambert walked through her new mobile home just saying over and over, "Oh boy. Oh boy. Oh boy."

Her daughter Cindy Reynolds stood in the living room with a smile on her face. Reynolds said her mother was "excited, but she's nervous. She's never had an automatic washer or a dishwasher."

Lambert, 67, who washes clothes in an old-fashioned wringer washer, raised four children in lower Davistown, one of the most economically depressed areas of the city.

Lambert was the first resident of lower Davistown to get the keys to one of 16 new mobile homes Friday morning in Southend Park.

She and other lower Davistown residents will live rent-free and utility-free in the mobile homes for at least two years while their old houses are torn down and new, permanent homes are built for them as part of the Newtown Pike extension project into downtown Lexington.

The Newtown Pike extension project will cost $87 million, by the most recent estimates. Almost half that amount will be used to purchase land in lower Davistown, rebuild the neighborhood infrastructure and pay for a portion of the new, permanent houses that will be built.

The project will displace 20 families, and 18 chose to move into the mobile homes, said Andrew Grunwald, extension project engineer and manager for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

Purchases of homes in lower Davistown will be completed this spring, and demolition is expected to begin in the summer, Grunwald said.

Sixteen mobile homes — beige with a wooden ramp leading to a small deck — are neatly lined up along Whitmer Way, which curves through the park. Two more will be moved there this spring.

Each mobile home is approximately 1,000 square feet with a living room, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each cost $30,000. An additional $10,500 was spent on each to add decks at the front and back doors and air conditioning, and to connect the utilities.

Lambert's drafty old house, she said, has no insulation and a thermostat that doesn't work most of the time.

"It's so warm in here," Rey nolds said. Her mother has "never had that comfort."

The Nathaniel United Methodist Mission on nearby De Roode Street bought a sofa, beds and bed linens, dishes, glasses and silverware for each home.

Ten families were moving into their mobile homes Friday, one each half-hour. All families will be moved in by Christmas, Grunwald said.

Larry Cooper walked down the street Friday with a huge smile on his face. He was scheduled to move at 3 p.m. "But I've been up looking in the window," he said.

Ann Roe and her adult daughters Debbie and Daisy were inspecting their new house, just a few doors away. "It's cleaner, warmer," said Debbie, who sat down on the sofa with a little bounce.

"Oh, I love the couch. Do you want to sit down?" she asked a visitor.

Another big advantage of the new housing is that there will be no roaches, said Lula Valdez, another daughter. "Roaches are a constant battle down here."

Lower Davistown is one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, but it has a core of long-time residents and a rich history. Davistown was home to freed slaves who moved there after the Civil War.

Plans call for up to 26 permanent, low-income housing units, mostly single-family homes, to be built in the area as part of the Newtown Pike extension project.

Current homeowners will have the opportunity to own new homes in the redeveloped neighborhood at no extra cost to them.

Current renters who want to remain renters will have their rent frozen at the current rate for 10 years under the project plans.

Opportunities are available for renters like Lambert to own their own homes. Lambert is taking classes to prepare her to become a homeowner.

But for the moment, she's delighted to have a clean, warm mobile home to live in.

"I consider myself lucky to have a place to live, and I can keep my dog," she said.

Looking around at her new washer and dryer, the neatly tiled kitchen floor and the living room with wall-to-wall carpet, she said happily, "I really do love it."