By Melanie Lasoff Levs

Since being awarded last June an implementation grant of almost $30 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods initiative, leaders working on the revitalization of the Near East Side of Columbus, Ohio have been busy.

“The majority of the last 10 months have been focused on reorganizing governance and infrastructure,” says Autumn Glover, program director of Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT), created in 2010 by the City of Columbus, The Ohio State University and the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) to spearhead the project.

Since winning a planning grant from HUD in July 2011 and then the implementation grant, the initiative’s leaders have been focused on engaging the community as the redevelopment progresses, she adds. “A lot of the heavy lifting on the implementation grant has been case management for Poindexter families and relationship building.”

Former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announcing Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant recipients in Columbus, OH in June 30, 2014.
Former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announcing Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant recipients in Columbus, OH in June 30, 2014.

HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program is itself focused on revitalizing distressed communities by strengthening public and private relationships, according to its website. The fact that the City of Columbus also leveraged $24 million for infrastructure for the Near East Side is one reason Columbus’s application was so strong, Glover explains. “The city’s partnership [in the redevelopment] is really important,” she says, adding that it proves Columbus is vested in transforming the Near East Side. “That much money could have easily been spread throughout the city, but it was focused on our neighborhood.”

What else set the Columbus grant application apart from the 40 other non-winning applicants? Glover points to the established agency — PACT and its full-time employees — overseeing the redevelopment, versus the typical arrangement of multiple stakeholders in other cities. “Having a lead organization that includes a city, a housing authority and a university,” she says, “those three partners are pretty unique.”

Most of the implementation grant funding — $21 million — is “bricks and sticks” funding for the transformation of Poindexter Village, the blighted public housing community on the site that will become 500 dynamic mixed-income housing units. The rest of the grant includes funds for People strategies, such as resident engagement and case management and Neighborhood strategies, including critical community improvements, says Glover. Some 365 resident families from Poindexter Villages have been resettled throughout the county, she explains, and once a month, they return to the neighborhood to participate in resident council discussions, share their ideas and hear about the status of the redevelopment. Five dedicated case managers work with those families on social services such as household management, job readiness and education, says Glover.

The residents will move back in stages over the next five years, and are excited about the plans for the Near East Side, which include an intergenerational care center, a grocery store and Health Sciences Academies.

The Choice Neighborhood Implementation grant is one funding stream of several that will help fulfill the entire PACT Blueprint for the area.

Grassroots community engagement has driven PACT's efforts since its inception in 2010.
Grassroots community engagement has driven PACT’s efforts since its inception in 2010.

“This is truly a resident-driven plan,” says Trudy Bartley, executive director of PACT, who adds that the residents have been involved in the revitalization efforts since before PACT applied for HUD’s planning grant. “This is resident-focused — they told us what they wanted to see in their neighborhood.”

The first wave of housing — 100 units for seniors — will open in January 2016, according to Bartley. The next phase of construction on additional housing begins this fall and will open after 18 months. Former Poindexter Village residents have first right of refusal for all housing, then new residents can apply, she says.

Both former and new residents will benefit from the transformation of the Near East Side community, according to a press release from HUD that announced the grant recipients: “The Transformation Plan builds on the Near East Side’s rich community history, strong partnerships, and strategies for education innovation, workforce and economic development, quality housing, and health initiatives to create a vibrant, healthy community of choice.”