A struggling neighborhood near downtown is primed for growth thanks to the ongoing Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI), led by the city’s Community Development Office and the Huntsville Housing Authority.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) CNI focuses on the area surrounding Butler Terrace and Butler Terrace Addition, now known as Mill Creek. Located southwest of downtown, Mill Creek is dominated by public housing and has long struggled with poverty, high crime and job vacancies, and low investment.
Despite Mill Creek’s strategic location, a disconnect exists between the neighborhood and the city’s thriving space and defense economy. This is where the CNI comes in.
“In 2018, we received a $1.3 million grant to create a transformation plan for housing owned by the Huntsville Housing Authority and the surrounding neighborhood,” said Scott Erwin, Community Development Manager. “Over the next two and a half years, we would engage more than 250 citizens to develop a transformation plan for the Mill Creek area.
Give a hand
Throughout the planning process, the City and Housing Authority worked closely with social service organisations, churches, medical providers, colleges and universities, businesses, arts and entertainment, etc. ., to gather feedback and address neighborhood concerns.
Citizens participated in steering and planning committees, resident surveys, visioning workshops, task forces and more.
“This work took place during COVID,” Erwin said. “We have found many creative ways to do Zoom and social distancing meetings to continue to engage. We had strong discussions in all neighborhoods as this is about the future and an important transformation project for the City of Huntsville. »
The CNI focuses on three main objectives:
- Lodging: Transform struggling public and assisted housing into energy-efficient, mixed-income, physically and financially viable long-term housing;
- People: Support positive outcomes for families living in the targeted development and surrounding neighborhood, particularly outcomes related to residents’ health, safety, employment, mobility and education; and
- Neighborhoods: Convert distressed and very poor neighborhoods into viable, mixed-income and sustainable neighborhoods with access to well-functioning services, high-quality public schools and education programs, high-quality early learning programs and services. quality, public assets, public transport and better access to jobs .
To achieve these goals, successful applicants must develop and implement a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy or transformation plan. This plan will become the guiding document for the revitalization of social and/or subsidized housing, while simultaneously guiding the transformation of the surrounding neighborhood and the positive effects for families.
Mill Creek’s transformation plan includes:
- A mix of market rates, housing authority, labor and senior housing
- Pedestrian-oriented shopping focused on the Governors Drive and Clinton Avenue corridors
- Infrastructure updates including utilities and road network
- Additions of green spaces, neighborhood park and restoration of the creek as neighborhood amenities
- Densification as an extension of the city center
- More employment, training and education opportunities
The final version of the plan is available for download. Erwin said it was the culmination of more than two years of hard work by the planning team, resident ambassadors, steering committee and community.
“It’s not a tomorrow plan ready to be implemented,” he said. “That’s what we’ve discovered through public engagement over the past two and a half years. A lot of work needs to take place as we move forward.
Erwin said the next step is to hire a consultant to help the City and Housing Authority apply for a $30-50 million CNI Implementation Grant, which would fund projects such as:
- Neighborhood infrastructure
- Affordable Housing Replacement
- Job Opportunities
- Health and education
- Private investment
The City engages Urban Design Associates to provide design guidelines to ensure a quality project. The UDA’s assistance will make it possible to define standards for the project and future development partners. Developers will be selected based on project needs and design standards.
“We are hopeful and excited for what is to come in the Mill Creek area,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “We thank our Housing Authority partners and appreciate the trust HUD has had in our community thus far.”
As part of the $1.3 million CNI grant fund, Erwin said the city has allocated $950,000 to execute the Governors Action Activity Beautification Project. The city, which resurfaced part of the governors last year, plans to do additional embellishments, including decorative lighting, irrigation, banners, thermoplastic crosswalks and more. The project is expected to be completed within 12 to 18 months.
Over the next year, the City will also demolish vacant Housing Authority units in the Mill Creek area. Erwin said Community Development will ask Council to consider helping to fund this effort when the Housing Authority is ready to proceed.
To view the map of Mill Creek, click here.