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Published: Monday, 12/29/2008

Work under way on 1st LMHA site in over 25 years

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Matt Sutter, manager of development for LMHA, left, and the housing authority's Mike Field visit the site near Alexis Road and Lewis Avenue where the townhomes are being built. Matt Sutter, manager of development for LMHA, left, and the housing authority's Mike Field visit the site near Alexis Road and Lewis Avenue where the townhomes are being built.
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It doesn't look like much now - just a hole in the ground - but the lots at 6020 and 6030 Kincora Drive soon will be home to the first new public housing in Toledo in more than 25 years.

The Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority has started building what will be two three-unit buildings to be called the Houck Townhomes, named after former LMHA Board Chairman Robert Houck.

It will be the first new public housing LMHA has built in Toledo since Ashley Arms opened in 1981.

"We're excited about the opportunity to begin housing development," said Matt Sutter, the authority's manager of development.

The area is a mix of single- family homes and apartments near the Michigan border. A handful of public housing townhouse units are already in the area, north of Alexis Road and west of Lewis Avenue. Other homes nearby were built by Habitat for Humanity for low-income owners.

LMHA's original plans called for the Houck complex to be much bigger, between 14 and 16 units, but the project was trimmed because of neighborhood resistance. Former Toledo City Councilman Joe Birmingham, who represented the area, said neighbors were worried about property values and about having multiple-family units in the area.

"My main [concern] was the value of my house," said Nakita McDonald, a homeowner on nearby Gribbin Lane. She signed a petition against the development.

At a September, 2006, public hearing, there was significant neighborhood opposition, but the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commission members voted 4-0 in favor of LMHA's proposal. LMHA reduced the number of units, agreed to increase the amount of green space, promised additional landscaping, and made several other concessions to encourage neighborhood acceptance.

During a recent walk-through on the site, however, Mr. Sutter said residents yelled at him.

Plans call for two buildings with three units each. In one building, there will be two two-bedroom units and one one-bedroom unit. In the other building, there will be two three-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit. The total cost is estimated at about $876,000, said Linnie Willis, LMHA executive director.

Mike Field, the housing authority's manager of modernization, said he understands neighbors might have a negative view of public housing, but he believes what the housing authority is building will add to the area.

"It should increase property values," he said. "It will be well-built, using upscale materials." Mr. Sutter added that the buildings will not look like traditional public housing and are designed to blend into the neighborhood.

Howard Husock, vice president for policy and research at The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, said public housing units "all look good when you cut the ribbon. The problem is over time."

Mr. Husock said he believes housing authorities should focus on continued maintenance and find creative, outside-the-box ways to get funding.

The new Houck Townhomes, near Alexis Road, are close to shopping and employment opportunities, said Mr. Sutter, as well as being in the Washington Local school district.

By locating the units outside of the central city, the housing authority is hoping to decentralize poverty and provide affordable housing in an area that isn't traditionally home to low-income families.

"We want to create affordable housing opportunities in areas where they have not existed," Mr. Sutter said.

Toledo's older public housing is largely concentrated in the central city, in complexes built in the 1930s and 1940s, such as the Brand Whitlock and Port Lawrence homes. These large complexes are made up of several hundred units each.

In addition to starting construction on this new public housing, this year marks a milestone for LMHA - its 75th anniversary.

The authority was founded in 1933. It has an annual budget of $44 million and 150 employees, overseeing more than 3,000 public housing units and more than 3,000 Section 8 vouchers.

Its original purpose was "slum clearance," to clear away areas of dilapidated housing in Toledo and replace them with new homes. Its first complex, the Brand Whitlock Homes at Nebraska Avenue and Division Street, was completed in 1938 and was among the nation's earliest public housing complexes, built by the New Deal-era Public Works Administration during the Great Depression.

K. Laverne Redden, who grew up in the Brand Whitlock Homes, recalls spending happy times there in the early days.

"As a child, it was a place of glory for us," she said, speaking to the audience at an LMHA 75th anniversary celebration dinner last month.

"We just had the best time," she said, reminiscing about running through sprinklers in the summertime, playing hopscotch, and attending the neighborhood churches, playgrounds, and drugstores. She described the homes as a villagelike atmosphere where everyone knew everyone else.

"Everybody that we knew and we loved was close by," she said. "Those were the days."

However, as the homes grew older, they became home to poorer and poorer families, concentrating low-income families in homes that critics say warehouse the poor.

This year, the housing authority has focused on redeveloping the Brand Whitlock and Albertus Brown homes, some of its oldest properties, through the HOPE VI program, which aims to transform old housing projects into mixed-income neighborhoods.

The Houck Townhomes are scheduled to be complete in August.

"These will arguably be the nicest buildings in the neighborhood," Mr. Sutter said. "We've taken a lot of care in the design."

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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