WILMINGTON –– Between 13th and 16th on Dawson Street, garments swing on clothes lines in front of dull, masonry one-story buildings. The dwellings, originally built with the intention to later tear down, house more than 200 impoverished Wilmington families. Spread out amongst 26 acres, the public housing structures decay as investors pour millions into revitalizing and enriching the surrounding land.
Hillcrest was built as temporary housing to support the efforts of the Second World War. It’s now 80 years old and crumbling. Meanwhile, City of Wilmington and New Hanover County leaders search for a solution to the area’s lack of affordable housing as the workforce population skyrockets. The answer could be dense housing –– apartments and townhomes –– that take up little land but hold a lot of people. If it were developed today, the property Hillcrest sits on would likely have double or quadruple the number of units.
Wilmington Housing Authority CEO Katrina Redmon said now is the time to do that. Her goal is to turn the public housing neighborhood into a mixed-use and mixed-income community in the coming years. All the existing affordable units would be replaced.
“That land [is] very under utilized for what our future needs are going to be in this area –– the city and county,” Redmon said in a phone interview Monday. “We certainly need to make better use of the property through density.”
Plans to demolish the public housing site and rebuild have been in the works since 2013. Back then, the city failed to obtain an approximately $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods, losing out to a larger city in 2014, Port City Daily previously reported.
Through the Choice Neighborhoods program, other projects to reinvent public housing are underway across the nation.
“It’s a better way of doing what the old Hope VI had hoped to do,” Redmon said, “which was to be an economic catalyst in the area where new housing was placed.”
HUD’s criticized Hope VI also granted money to public housing authorities for redevelopment projects. It was replaced with the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative in 2010.
The Wilmington Housing Authority put out a request for qualifications in search of a development partner capable of razing the existing Hillcrest community and replacing it with one that is “vibrant” and “sustainable.”
“We want to come back with a better place for individuals and families to live,” Redmon said.
The request for qualifications “encourages respondents to be creative in their approach” and asks that the developer incorporate a mix of uses, which could include retail or office spaces. Redmon envisions apartments, townhomes and maybe mid-rises that are available to a variety of incomes. Right now Hillcrest is predominantly Black, low-income, and faces high crime rates. Like other public housing developments, the community is patrolled by a squad of WPD officers specifically dedicated to WHA projects.
It is still early in the process. Bids are due by mid-July, and then negotiations can commence. It should take years to redevelop all 26 acres, Redmon said. The timeline is murky and dependent upon how long negotiations with the developer take. Work on roads and water and sewer infrastructure are expected to prolong construction as well.
The selected developer would draft a comprehensive site plan and employ a team to oversee the design and construction. HUD, which owns the property, must OK all moves.
“It’s quite a long process,” Redmon said.
Redmon said she met with the residents and the resident advisory board, though there hasn’t been “a great deal of response.” “I think some folks are pretty excited to see some improvement,” she said. “We’re all in this thing together.”
Per the Uniform Relocation Act, the authority would need to develop a plan to move the displaced tenants of the neighborhood. Around 210 of its 256 units, some with up to three bedrooms, are currently occupied.
“We would take care of them during that and then they have a right to return if they so choose to do so,” Redmon said.
The cost of redevelopment is unknown until a site plan is created with the chosen development partner. It would require multiple funding sources, such as tax credits, affordable housing bonds and private financing.
Redmon said the authority is interested in redoing other public housing developments in the future. In the past, the city has named Houston Moore as one due for upgrades. Wilmington Police Department’s former chief Ralph Evangelous said in 2019 he thought the city’s public housing projects were “past their time” and impoverished people should instead be spread out into the community.
Correction: The original headline of this article stated “City plans to bulldoze Hillcrest.” The effort to redevelop Hillcrest is actually the Wilmington Housing Authority’s project. WHA operates independently of the City of Wilmington.
Have tips or comments? Email email@example.com