Cover Story: Major makeover - Boulevard Homes

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's an iconic public housing complex and for all the wrong reasons.  Urban decay, crime, a failed experiment.

Now, finally hope.

It's an ambitious plan to turn one of the more notorious sections of town into something the city can hold up as a model to the country.  And developers are confident they can do it.

It was moving day for Brandon Spears.  The big stuff gone.  Only the walls and the TV left - after three years at Boulevard Homes.

"Are you going to miss this place?"  He says, "It's spacious."  Then he thinks about it.  "Nope.  Honestly, no I'm not. It feels good to move on. Start over. Leave all the troubles behind."

Which sum up the sentiments for the Charlotte Housing Authority and the city of Charlotte.

"I think it will really change and rebirth the West Boulevard corridor," says Charlotte city councilman James Mitchell.

$21 million came from Washington Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarding the city the first major installment to tear down Boulevard Homes and replace it with a mixed-income "education village" with a school as its centerpiece.

A $150 million community.

Mitchell, chairman of the city council's housing and neighborhood development committee, says "It's more than rooftops. It's a holistic approach about providing education, recreation as well as rooftops to those citizens who need quality of housing."

Neighbors began moving out weeks ago.

The 40-acre site near Billy Graham Parkway on West Boulevard will be razed later this year.

In its place the Charlotte Housing Authority plans to mix public, Section 8, and market-rate housing with 332 units.  CHA will partnering with CMS, Mecklenburg Park and Recreation and Central Piedmont Community College, creating a community people will want to move into.

CHA has had success redeveloping aging public housing complexes though HUD's so-called HOPE 6 grant program.

In the last seven years four of the city's most distressed public housing projects have been turned into mixed-income communities.

Redeveloping Boulevard Homes, where two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers were gunned down in 1993 and where the officers names are a constant reminder, may be its most ambitious project yet.

"It's kinda quieted down a little bit now. But it has been pretty rough back in the days. It's all right now. But it's a nice thing they're doing," says neighbor Jimmy Fairley.

The neighborhood is 41 years old and showing its age.  Boulevard Homes had five times the city's violent crime average in 2008 according to a city quality of life study.

It's about to change.

"I think that's awesome to me. It's a big change. I think it's needed and it'll be well appreciated," says resident Latoya Williams.

Demolition is set for next year, the neighborhood will take several years to build.

Of the Housing Authority's 15 properties it manages, Boulevard Homes which was built 41 years ago, is the oldest in need of repair.

The Assistant Secretary of HUD is scheduled to be in town Wednesday for the formal announcement.

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