UPDATE 9/25/13 @ 5 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The violence at Northcott Court Tuesday night underscores the need to tear the housing units down, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said.
"People who live in these units deserve better," Williams said.
Six people were shot. None of them were residents at the housing complex.
"When you have a housing project that allows individuals from the outside to come in and be hidden from other elements and able to do other nefarious things, it's our responsibility to remove that," Williams said.
Huntington City Council approved a plan in June to tear down Northcott Court to make way for commercial development, but that was delayed following a roadblock in early August.
The Huntington Housing Authority was disappointed when they found out their application for $4 million in low income housing credits was turned down.
Instead of construction on new housing beginning this fall, it’s pushed back until at least next spring.
The city plans to eventually have new businesses set up in Northcott Court’s place.
The mayor says that could help curb crime in more ways than one.
"If you have six people from age 19 to 36 in the early evening with nothing else to do, if they had the wherewithal just to be able to get a job, they wouldn't have time to be doing that," Williams said.
Williams says despite the setback, they're still moving forward with Northcott's demolition.
No time table has been set yet, but residents could be moved to temporary housing in different areas in the city until the new housing units are completed.
No arrests in the shootings have been made.
On Friday, the Huntington Housing Authority found out their application for $4 million in low income housing tax credits was turned down.
Construction that was expected to begin in the fall will be delayed at least until next year.
The West Virginia Housing Development Fund's decision came as a shock to HHA Executive Director Bill Dotson.
"We were fully expecting to be funded,” Dotson said. “We really were. This is a blow to the planning for our slum and blight situation at Fairfield West."
Plans for demolition at Northcott Court, which will make way for commercial development, are still moving forward.
Mayor Steve Williams says residents at Northcott will be moved to other locations temporarily until the new housing project is completed, which won't be as soon as they'd thought.
"Am I disappointed? Yes,” Williams said. “Do I think this is a death knell? By no means."
Dotson says they may be able to reapply for the tax credits in March.
Williams says he's optimistic the new housing project can be completed by next August.
They say they’re not sure why the application for the tax credits was turned down.
"I don't know what has held it back,” Williams said. “We'll find out."
The plan, approved by City Council Monday night, would mean moving the folks who live in the Northcott Housing Complex to new low-income housing throughout the city.
"We are ambitious to say that in three years we can see this demolished, we can see new development happen and we an anticipate there will be other developments on this side of the street, here on this side of the street and beyond even before that time," Holley explained.
Holley says several of the vacant lots along Hal Greer were zoned for residential use, which deterred businesses from trying to go the extra mile to get permission to build in the city.
"Now it is already done, so when somebody comes in and purchases it up he has at least some assurance that he can develop it," Holley said.
Holley explained it is prime real estate. Nearly 25,000 drivers make their way down the stretch each day.
As for what is coming to the area, there is a lot of speculation. Holley said it is no secret some big grocery stores are interested in building at that location.
He says it would improve quality of life in an area where there hasn't been a grocery store in a decade.
Business owners who already have set up shop along the Boulevard say they would welcome the new business.
Cabell Huntington Hospital continues to expand its campus in that area. The hospital’s president and CEO said in a statement to WSAZ that:
“As a Huntington native, Cabell Huntington Hospital has been a staple of the neighborhood for most of my life. Cabell Huntington Hospital has made significant investments to the campus in recent years and welcomes development and improvements along Hal Greer Boulevard that will enhance the entrance to the community and provide convenient retail opportunities for residents and visitors.”
Huntington City Council approved a plan Monday night to dismantle the Northcott Court Community along Hal Greer Boulevard. It's a joint effort by the city of Huntington and Huntington Housing Authority to replace Northcott -- built in the 1940s -- with modern townhouse-style units.
Frank Lambert, who was born and raised in Huntington, is proud to call Northcott Court his family's home. He's also concerned what will happen when they have to pick up and move.
But city leaders insist no one will be tossed in the streets.
Huntington City Council had one final public hearing before Monday night's vote. Opinions were not exactly aplenty.
The new housing will be spread out across the Fairfield West area instead of a clustered housing project. The city says residents will move out only when their new home is ready to move into.
"But give them the opportunity to stay in the community and to build the community and provide housing in a community that people could live in and enjoy,” City Councilwoman Sandra Clements said.”There's no doubt in my mind that this was the right move for the city to take."
The project calls for the work to be done in phases -- with no exact timeline in effect just yet. When it's complete, Northcott Court could look more like a home to retail stores than the place Frank Lambert's family calls home.
The consultant for the plan says 40 percent of the current housing at Northcott is not up to code.
The Northcott Court apartments were built in the 1940s. The Huntington Housing Authority is planning to tear them down.
Neighbors had a chance to voice their concerns Wednesday night about what will happen once the homes are gone.
Resident Stella Fletcher says she supports the move.
"I myself personally saw a shooting in front of my house," Fletcher said.
Wednesday night Northcott residents and members of the community met with the Huntington Housing Authority at the Marie Redd Senior Center to get a clearer picture of what the plan is.
HHA Executive Director Bill Dotson says the demolition would be done over 4 to 5 years. They'll be building new, modern affordable housing in the Fairfield West neighborhood. He says they'll have a place for everyone who now lives in the 130 units at Northcott.
"I've been talking with this community for almost a year now, and they are solidly behind this," he said.
Hal Greer Boulevard is now being widened, leaving the road three feet from front doors.
The Northcott manager says the housing's condensed location and vulnerable residents make it inviting to drug dealers and criminals.
"What we're trying to do is provide better housing, better amenities for these families to be out in the communities to have a better chance of survival," he said at the meeting Wednesday night.
Construction on the replacement units could begin as soon as January, Dotson said.
City Councilwoman Sandra Clements, who represents that district, says some people have been concerned, given how other cities have torn down public housing and residents have ended up without a home, but she says she's confident that will not be the case here.
After demolition, that land would be used for commercial use. Members of the community have said they'd like to see a grocery store there.
The HHA is now waiting for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to approve the demolition.
The project would cost $24 million total. They'll be paying for it mostly through low income tax credits.
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