Despite decades of federal programs and local interventions, the families of Beecher Terrace (a 768-unit, barrack-style, family public housing site owned by the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, or LMHA), and the surrounding Russell neighborhood (both of which are located in the long-underserved West Louisville, in Kentucky) suffered from unacceptable economic, education and health inequities. Although all are affected, low-income families have suffered most from decades of general disinvestment in the Russell area, which lacked/lacks in amenities and is one of the city’s largest food deserts. Poor health indicators, including one of the city’s highest death rates due to all causes, make the Park DuValle Health Center one of its few thriving businesses. Russell’s high long-term residential vacancy rate (19%) also speaks to its problems. Three of the neighborhood’s four public schools have Title I status, and its violent crime rate is almost five times the city’s.
On January 16, 2015, the Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA) was awarded a $425,000 Choice Neighborhoods planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Beecher Terrace public housing development and the Russell Neighborhood. The People Plan, just a portion of the Choice Neighborhood Initiative (or CNI – a program that leverages significant public and private dollars to support locally driven strategies that address struggling neighborhoods with distressed public or HUD-assisted housing through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation), was implemented to provide the high-quality supports needed to systematically eradicate these disparities, and create in their place, a belief in a better future. CNI’s mission is for local leaders, residents, and stakeholders, such as public housing authorities, cities, schools, police, business owners, nonprofits, and private developers, come together to create and implement a plan that revitalizes distressed HUD housing and addresses the challenges in the surrounding neighborhood. The program helps communities transform neighborhoods by revitalizing severely distressed public and/or assisted housing and catalyzing critical improvements in the neighborhood, including vacant property, housing, businesses, services and schools.
Our organization, Urban Strategies Inc (USI) was chosen to serve as the lead for the People Implementation Team, with support from Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA) case managers, relocation staff, and outside organizations that act as direct service providers. The purpose behind this collaborative effort was/is to stabilize families (ensure that they are safely housed and financially self-sufficient), and them move them towards thriving (via educational opportunities, etc.).
Generational poverty, systemic racism/a lack of trust between families and the school district, and a history of familial posteriority as it applies to education are all trends that have affected the overall stability of our Beecher Terrace families.
We at USI understand the reality is that we can’t expect children (Beecher Terrace or otherwise) to do better if they don’t know better; when their own parents are stuck in survival mode, how can we ever expect things to change? By working closely with the housing authority to stabilize these families (i.e. ensuring that they have a home that is safe, and ideally in a neighborhood of their choosing), we are able to reduce environmental stressors for families, therefore allowing them to place more focus on education. Through this, and by providing greater access to service providers (beginning at birth and going all the way through high school) that meet our residents where they are, we aim to close the educational equity gap between Beecher Terrace/Russell youth and their peers. When a disadvantaged child is provided with consistent education support, the trajectory of their life changes. Ultimately, their entire community is impacted as the new generation becomes of age and is able to give back to their community in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.
Urban Strategies Inc (USI) works closely with the Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA), city government officials, organizations (that support our pillars of education, economic mobility, and health/wellness), grant foundations, property managers, community members and other stakeholders to build comprehensive plans around neighborhood conditions and human service needs. As it applies to the Russell neighborhood/Beecher Terrace, we aim to develop economic opportunities, cradle-to-college/career success, access to high quality health services, and a range of comprehensive human service supports while concurrently working with developers to create new physical facilities and amenities that complement human service systems and improve the capacity of existing community systems for our target residents.
Our vision is to create equitable opportunities where all Russell Neighborhood/Beecher Terrace children and families are stable and thriving; where all voices are acknowledged and promoted, and all systems are positively aligned and equally contributing. We believe that families remain at the center of our usage of data to support our work and our expertise and assembly of professionals support our contributions as thought leaders.
How it’s done: