Friday, October 14, 2005

Hope – And Mixed-Income Housing – Coming to Akron

Akron saw the groundbreaking yesterday of its first mixed-income housing project. AMHA is razing the frankly blighted Elizabeth Park project and building in its place a mix of townhouses and single family homes. The some units will be sold, some let to government-subsidized tenants and some will be public housing. AMHA is financing the project in part with a HUD Hope VI grant (whatever happened to Hopes I-V would be subject of a different post.)

The new project, which will also include new green space and other amenities, will be called Cascade Village.

Mixed income housing is the new wave in public housing. Government underwritten housing projects combine subsidized affordable units with units sold at market rates. The idea crosses old-fashioned liberal public housing with new, more traditionally rightish ideas like respecting market forces and inculcating middle class values.

The record so far has been, well, mixed. Projects have worked some places better than others. They also do some things – creating safe, healthy and pleasant living environments – better than others – fostering real interaction across class lines, economically integrating local schools.

I have considerable hope about the potential of mixed-income housing and therefore some trepidation about this particular project. While the BJ article describes Elizabeth Park as part of North Akron, it’s not on the North Hill part. Elizabeth Park lies in the shadow of the Y-Bridge in a particularly poverty-ridden part of the city. A more geographically isolated area of Akron would be hard to find. Also, since it feeds into the North High school cluster, working and middle class families who want to send their kids to public schools are likely to look elsewhere. Finally, lying along the Little Cuyahoga, it is one of the few areas of Akron proper that could see catastrophic flooding. Flooding in the Valley is becoming a bigger problem every year as development in the Valley and along the rim generates more and more runoff. As weather-related disasters put fears of flooding in the public conscience, the development’s location will be more of a liability.

AMHA is waiting to hear about a grant request for a similar development to replace Edgewood homes. This would be a far more appealing location. It’s right across from the zoo, convenient to both downtown and West Akron and, until Helen Arnold is complete, feeds into King, one of Akron’s best elementary schools.

Elizabeth Park is probably about the dankest property in the AMHA portfolio and needed to go. HUD granted money for this project and AMHA was right to take it, and to try and break the public housing mold in Akron. I just fear that if it doesn’t work in the new Cascade Village, it won’t be tried in areas more conducive to its success. Here’s hoping my fears about this project are unfounded and that AMHA succeeds in funding a similar project at Edgewood.


Anonymous said...

Hmm a few comments on this. (See, you do have a reader or two.)

I personally do not think Elizabeth Park is the "dankest" AMHA developemnt - that honor may go Newton Woods. In fact the brick buildings of EP are much nicer than Joy Park Homes or some of the other more recent projects. There are trees in EP too which is more than I can say for other projects.

I would like to know more about the mixed housing experiment across the river on Portage Trail, including the befreo and after crime rates in the Valley businesses. If the Zahn Drive area is any indication then this may not be a successful enterprise.

One comment you made is not clear to me - why is North cluster bad (or at least worse than Garfield, East, or Kenmore)? Where do you think the middle class residents of Cascade Village would want their kids to go? The whole city cannot go to Firestone.

Scott Piepho said...

Thanks for commenting A. You appear to have a little more direct knowledge of the AMHA world than I.

My statement about EP came out of 1) a statement from AMHA in and amongst the material I linked, 2) driving past the place a few times 3) my imperfect memory from reading police reports back in the day.

From what I have read, local crime changes are affected by how vigilant the project managers are in running off the ne'er-do-wells. That, of course, varies. It will also have a huge effect on the ultimate perceived success of the program. Folks still remember the crime wave that enveloped NW Akron when Section 8 came to Thurmont.

My comment about North is based on my perception of the perceptions of others. In fact you are right that North cluster's reputation lags somewhat behind its actual performance. The same is somewhat true of Garfield, though it seems folks in Firestone Park feel somewhat better about their schools than folks in North Hill do. Again, it's my perception from lurking around PTA meetings.

As for better sites from a school perspective (in addition to Edgewood homes), Ellet cluster does nearly as well as Firestone cluster, the IB program notwithstanding. Another possiblitiy is the St. Sebastian neighborhoods between Exchange and Hawkins. Because St. S gives a discount to folks who live within the parish, there are some quality neighborhoods in the area despite feeding into Rankin/Perkins/Buchtel.

I don't know of specific sites in either area. My point was mostly to discuss challenges facing the project rather than to rant about AMHA screw-ups. Personally, I hope mightily that this all works. We all would be better off for it.

As for where else besides