The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Wednesday that East Baton Rouge Parish has been awarded a grant of $29.5 million to implement its “BR Choice” initiative that will revitalize EBRPHA’s Ardenwood Village and the surrounding Baton Rouge neighborhoods. The $29.5 million will be invested into Housing ($19.8 million), Neighborhood ($4 million), Supportive Service ($4 million), and Demolition ($1.7 million).
The announcement came after four months of refining the Choice Neighborhood Implementation (CNI) grant application (which was originally submitted in September 2018) and included a site visit from HUD officials in February 2019 and again in June 2019.
The BR Choice Transformation Plan targets an area of approximately 1.6 miles that that includes the Melrose East, Smiley Heights, East Fairfields and Ardendale neighborhoods. The grant follows a $500,000 award given to EBRPHA by HUD in 2014 to begin the planning process to envision the transformation.
“Our vision is one step closer to becoming a reality,” said EBRPHA Board of Commissioners Chair Dianna Payton. “We had a strategic plan of transformation for our community’s public housing program and an amazing collaborative effort by a talented, dedicated team to get us to this point. This grant is a great success for the organization and the community will benefit with more choices and quality housing for our citizens. We will continue to work for the next few years to complete our plan to make quality, affordable housing a way of life.”
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said, “The neighborhoods of Smiley Heights and Melrose East will see significant revitalization as a result of this grant, making it an important win for East Baton Rouge Parish. I believe HUD chose Baton Rouge for this incredible award because our team of stakeholders highlighted resilience, place-making and innovation as part of their comprehensive plan.”
“This nearly $29.5 million grant announcement is a significant win for East Baton Rouge Parish that will afford us a transformative opportunity to both invigorate and rejuvenate the neighborhoods of Smiley Heights and Melrose East, and continue expanding assets within our parish,” Weston Broome said.
Weston Broome also thanked the Congressional delegation members, Build Baton Rouge, and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation for the successful effort and recognized “the residents of the Smiley Heights, Melrose East, Fairfield and Ardendale neighborhoods, and
council member Donna Collins-Lewis, who worked collaboratively with us to produce a winning presentation.”
EBRPHA will get to work immediately implementing the plan and over the next 60 to 90 days will meet with the residents of Ardenwood Village and discuss supportive services; execute the Choice Neighborhood grant agreement; convene the transformation team, shareholder groups and community partners; and hire a Grants Manager.
The CNI process is part of a White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative created to align federal funding streams with projects that transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in neighborhoods of opportunity.
The BR Choice plan includes a YWCA early learning center, an elementary level charter school, magnet programs in existing schools and youth enrichment programs like dance, music and culinary skills. Resources for adults and seniors are also part of the master plan.
EBRPHA CEO J. Wesley Daniels, Jr. will spearhead the grant implementation and subsequent revitalization which will take at least 5 years to fully implement. More than 30 stakeholder groups backed the effort and were part of the impressive day-long series of meetings, presentations and site visits on February 20th that helped EBR capture the HUD grant.
Daniels said the BR Choice Neighborhood will become an “urban creative village” creating over $335.5 million in social and economic investments.”
Other key components for the BR Choice Transformation Plan includes mixed-income and market-rate housing, the BRCC McKay Automotive Technology Center, BRCC Automotive Collision Center, and the East Baton Rouge Schools Career and Technology Center. The plan also includes an Entrepreneurship/Technology Center, the Red Stick Arts Project and the aforementioned arts and early learning center. The master plan also incorporates BREC parks, the $3.4 million Eden Park library, and numerous educational assets which ensures that the transformed neighborhoods truly focus on the “cradle to career” concept.
Integral Development and Partners Southeast will break ground on the first multi-family phase, Cypress at Ardendale (172 units) in July 2020. These development partners also submitted a funding application for BR Choice’s second multifamily phase, a 70-unit senior community.
“This is a great return on investment for this entire community, Daniels said. “More importantly, this successful outcome demonstrates the prudent leveraging of public and private resources to transform these communities.”
“With the official notification from HUD, EBRPHA continues to transform its portfolio through innovative, revitalization solutions and EBRPHA invested approximately $385,000 to prepare the application that yielded this $29.5 million grant.”
In the letter addressed to Mayor Broome and J. Daniels, R. Hunter Kurtz, the Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing at HUD, commended the BR Choice team for developing a “viable, feasible approach to planning for neighborhood transformation”.