Friday, January 18, 2013

What to do about Vacant Properties in Russell?

Louisville has over 7000 vacant properties and something has to be done about them. The Russell neighborhood where I live has a ton of vacant properties. As we all know vacant properties bring down the value of the surrounding houses (as if it can get any lower), invite crime, and a whole host of negatives. The City as an answer for the vacant property problem. Tear them down. On the surface that sounds like a winner, except now you have another problem. What to do with the vacant lot? The city has sold several vacant lots in Russell to Oracle development and they have built smallish section 8 homes. The homes are brightly colored and look decent enough on the outside, but they are not to scale of the current houses in the neighborhood, and they are quite small for homes in this area. Most of the shotguns and camel back houses in Russell have more usable space. Then there is the issue of building more section 8 homes in a neighborhood or neighborhoods that are dominated by section 8 homes and half-way houses. What value does that bring to the neighborhood? Can a neighborhood really comeback if you turn vacant lots into section 8 homes (that will have a hard time being sold as single family homes because of their size and construction materials) and half-way houses? I would say no. Which leads me back to the question of what to do about vacant houses?

What we need to do is to think about vacant houses not as a problem, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to revitalized forgotten neighborhoods and breathe new life into them. An opportunity to provide affordable housing to those who can't afford it and to preserve the historic nature of our city. If we look around the country we can see all sort of examples of how other communities have turned vacant houses into a catalyst for neighborhood redevelopment. For the Russell neighborhood I have a suggestion.

The first thing we can do is to urge the metro council to fully fund the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund or LAHTF. The LAHTF would refurbish vacant and abandon homes and in-turn put those homes into the hands of people with people with fix incomes like seniors or those with disabilities, young families starting out who may not be able to afford a home, and for working people who wages are not enough for them to purchase or rent.

Fully funding the LAHTF is step one. Step 1.5 should be for Russell to become an Urban art district. Think Harlem, New York from 1920's. How do we accomplish this with vacant properties. Simple. We copy the Paducah model.  Paducah, KY has an artist relocation program, where they will give artist vacant or dilapidated houses for as little as $1 and up to $2500 for professional design fees. The Paducah Artist Relocation Program has completely transformed the LowerTown neighborhood. I really suggest you click the link above and read about the program. If Paducah can do it why can't we?

As a resident of the Russell neighborhood and a member of the Concerned Association of Russell Residents, C.A.R.R. I'm going to make it my goal to push for Russell to become an art district and to start an Artist Relocation Program. Something has to be done and there is no time like the present.