Atlanta comes up short; fails to win $30 million federal Choice grant

By Maria Saporta

The City of Atlanta, one of six cities selected as a finalist to receive a $30 million federal grant for neighborhood revitalization, was not selected as one of the four winning cities.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced on Monday that the four $30 million “Choice Neighborhood Initiative” grants were awarded to Columbus, Ohio; Norwalk, Connecticut; Philadelphia, Pa.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.

Each city will receive $30 million with the exception of Columbus, which will receive $29.7 million.

The Choice Initiative is a comprehensive approach to struggling neighborhood revitalization through the renovation of severely distressed public or HUD-assisted housing. The desired result is the creation of a vibrant, mixed income neighborhood that will beautify cities and reduce crime, according to the program’s description.

“HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative supports local visions for how to transform high-poverty, distressed communities into neighborhoods of opportunity,” Donovan said. “By working together, with local and state partners we will show why neighborhoods should always be defined by their potential—not their problems. Together, we will work to ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code and expand opportunity for all.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had issued a press release when the city’s application for an implementation grant was announced as one of the six finalists. As late as last Friday, Reed sounded optimistic that Atlanta would be getting good news “any day now” that it would be receiving $30 million to help boost its efforts to revitalize the area around the Atlanta University Center.

HUD received 44 applications for implementation grants from cities all over the country. As part of the initiative, communities are required to develop a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy.

In their applications, community leaders and community members are expected to collaborate to put a financially viable proposal in place.

When Atlanta was selected as one of six finalists, the mayor’s press release stated that ”if selected, the city will work with the Atlanta Housing Authority and local organizations to achieve neighborhood revitalization through a comprehensive approach that includes housing, neighborhood and people.”

Collaborating with the City of Atlanta on the implementation grant included the Integral Group LLC, as the Housing Implementation Lead for the former University Homes; AHA, which will serve as the People Implementation Lead; and United Way of Greater Atlanta, as the Principal Education Partner.

In 2010, the Atlanta Housing Authority was awarded a $250,000 Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant from HUD to develop a strategy for revitalizing the west Atlanta neighborhood, where the former University Homes public housing site was located. The neighborhood includes Vine City, Ashview Heights and the Atlanta University Center (AUC). The AUC is comprised of four historically black colleges and universities (Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College), all anchor institutions supporting the transformation of their surrounding communities.

As of late Tuesday evening, the City of Atlanta had not disclosed that it was not one of the four Choice grant winners.

The winning cities, however, were fortunate enough to have a high-ranking HUD official make an announcement in their communities.

The Columbus Dispatch reported July 1 that HUD Secretary Donovan went to Ohio to make the announcement of the $29.7 million grant to help revitalize the Near East Side.

The Choice grant application said that the $29.7 million was the key to leveraging much of the $225.4 million in projects listed in the grant application, according to Bryan Brown, senior vice president for the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority.

Columbus will use the money to build hundreds of apartments and pay for education, health and job-training initiatives in an area east of Downtown suffering for decades from blight, crime and population loss.

“Neighborhoods should always be defined by their potential, not their problems,” said Donovan, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “We don’t believe that any child should have their future limited by the neighborhood they grew up in.”

Carol Galante, commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration, went to Pittsburgh to announce the $30 million grant for the Larimer community.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the grant would be applied to the development of about 350 unites of mixed-income housing and a mixed-use development in Larimer.

impressed with the hard work you have done,” Ms. Galante said.

“This is huge,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “We are standing at the beginning of more than $400 million in investment” that would be leveraged from the grant.

City Councilman Ricky Burgess sponsored the bill that council approved last year to commit $12 million in city money to the project over five years, plus $16.5 million from the city Housing Authority.

In Philadelphia, Jemine Byron, HUD’s chief procurement officer, delivered the $30 million news to Mayor Michael Nutter, according to the Inquirer newspaper.

The grant will go toward improving housing and developing vacant lots along “a distressed and impoverished swath of North Philadelphia near Temple University.”

A large part of the grant is to be used to replace Norris Apartments, a 1950s public housing development with 297 units of affordable and market-rate housing.

The newspaper reported that both the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Philadelphia Housing Authority applied for the grant. An additional $125 million for the project is expected to come from city, state, and private sources over time.

Norwalk, Conn.’s $30 million grant is slated to revitalize the Washington Village public housing complex.

Norwalk Housing Authority Deputy Director Candace Mayer said the grant will include making every unit storm-resilient, an important issue following the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012, according to the Daily Voice newspaper.

The improvements to the Washington Village complex are part of a renewed investment in the area that will have a positive impact on the schools, Mayer added.

Harriet Tregoning, director of HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience, went to Norwalk to announce the Choice grant.

“When it comes to community development, not only do we want families to have access to quality affordable housing, but we want to make sure the housing succeeds by complementing it with other critical assets,” she said.

Perhaps Reed realized earlier this week that Atlanta had not won one of the four Choice grants when he did not get a call saying that a high-level HUD official would be coming to town.

The other grant application that was one of the six finalists but failed to win a Choice award was the Community Action Project of Tulsa County Inc. in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

To be fair, during his four-and-a-half years as mayor, Reed has been rather successful in securing federal funds for Atlanta and Georgia.

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