The executive director of the Louisville Metro Housing Authority says the concentration of poverty in the Sheppard Square housing complex attracts predators and razing the debilitated structure is a necessary step to revitalize the historic Smoketown neighborhood.
Earlier this year, the city received a $22 million HOPE VI grant to tear down the 70-year-old complex with its 326-units. The plan is to replace Sheppard Square with a mixed income neighborhood that will cost around $157 million. Housing authority officials will meet with residents Thursday to discuss plans to either relocate or how to meet the criteria for returning to the new complex.
Louisville Metro Housing Authority Executive Director Tim Barry acknowledges the relocation process will be difficult for residents, but says the old barracks-style housing system is abysmal and most residents in the area want to leave.
“It needs to be replaced and it’s not fit for human habitation from the standpoint of its layout and design,” he says. “We can do better and we should do better…and I think that concentration of poverty stigmatizes people. I truly do, because it says to them in no uncertain terms because of your economic situation you’re not worthy of better housing. And I think that’s absolutely wrong.”
The housing authority will assign residents a case manager who will help with the transition to subsidized housing at scattered sites. New standards for those wanting to come back include receiving disability, having a job, or being enrolled in school or vocational program. Those individual interviews start next Tuesday and several meetings with residents will be scheduled.
Frustrated with the process, Sheppard Square resident Yejide Travis says the facilities are in serious disrepair and need to be demolished. But she argues the city hasn’t provided enough information to residents and the current policy simply displaces the poor instead of dealing with economic disparities.
“I have witnessed this since two years ago when they began the process. They are following the letter of the grant. That does not mean it’s humane, that doesn’t mean it’s particularly helpful to anyone who’s being faced with this move, but they are following the letter of the law,” she says.
It is expected most of the current residents will be moved out by next spring, including approximately 60 Somali families who resettled at Sheppard Square from refugee camps over the past decade. The sessions with residents will include a translator for those who do not speak English.
For Travis and others, tonight’s meeting is about seeking specific answers on what choices residents who are being forced to relocate have and when the relocation plan starts.
“When does the process begin? How soon can I move? What’s the fastest way for me to get to on whatever list that’s available so that I can relocate ASAP,” she says.
The housing authority’s meeting with residents begins at 5:30pm today at Meyzeek Middle School on 828 S. Jackson Street.
For WFPL’s full interview with Barry see below
For our full interview with Travis see below