Public housing targeted for demolition, upgrades

Dayton high-rise buildings could be replaced.

Some of Dayton’s high-rise public housing buildings could be torn down and replaced with smaller, more dispersed developments if the local public housing authority can join a special new federal program.

Greater Dayton Premier Management has asked to participate in the Rental Assistance Demonstration program to allow the agency to access private investment to repair and modernize or replace about 830 public housing units.

Enrollment in the program could help GDPM raise money to improve existing affordable housing units and possibly demolish and replace some older apartment towers, such as the 200-unit Wilkinson building downtown, officials said.

The program could break up concentrated poverty in public housing developments and replace woefully outdated units with new affordable apartments, said Jim McCarthy, president and CEO of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center.

“I think this is the most cutting-edge, forward-thinking thing the housing authority could be doing to try and improve affordable housing for people in the Miami Valley,” he said.

GDPM recently applied to participate in the Rental Assistance Demonstration program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The local agency wants to use the program to convert almost 830 public housing units over to the project-based Section 8 housing program.

The conversion would allow GDPM to take on debt and use private investment and low-income housing tax credits to pay for facility renovations.

The rental assistance program helps preserve, stabilize, demolish and rebuild affordable housing in communities across the nation, said Gina Rodriguez, a HUD spokeswoman.

The program could help transform neighborhoods across Montgomery County by allowing GDPM to construct new and updated affordable housing, said Jennifer Heapy, the organization’s CEO.

Properties in the program would continue to be owned and manged by GDPM.

But the agency could seek public and private financing — such as loans and competitive tax credits — to fund maintenance and renovation improvements, she said.

“It provides an opportunity to invest large amounts of capital into properties that are at risk of being lost from the county’s affordable housing inventory,” she said.

The targeted properties include the Grand, Metropolitan and Hallmark Meridian high rises in north Dayton, and the 147-unit Wentworth building in the northwestern section of the city.

Other targeted buildings include the Wilkinson Plaza apartments on W. Fifth St. in downtown and the Westdale apartments on the west side.

The Westdale building is more than 50 years old, and Wentworth and Wilkinson apartments were built more than four decades ago.

Combined, the targeted properties need more than $37 million in renovations to be modernized, according to GDPM estimates.

Last year, HUD awarded the local housing agency less than $4 million for capital projects.

GDPM must work to comply with a federal mandate to decentralize public housing.

GDPM is looking at removing and replacing high-rises that would be expensive to renovate, like the Wilkinson apartment tower, which could be replaced with a smaller building that is a better fit for the downtown environment, Heapy said.

Wilkinson has at least $14 million in capital needs. Wentworth and Westdale would need substantial rehabilitation or demolition.

If demolition occurs, GDPM would build new units in other parts of the community, but all eliminated units must be replaced with new ones that current residents have a right to occupy, she said.

“I’m confident this is going to work, and I think it’s going to be great for the community,” Heapy said.

The entire project will take years to complete, but conversion efforts could get under way in about 18 months to two years, she said.

GDPM is now on a waiting list to join the program, which is currently capped at 185,000 units.

But Congress is considering raising the limit to 250,000 units, and some advocates support eliminating the cap entirely.

HUD recognizes that its capital funding allocations do not meet the facility needs of public housing authorities.

The agency has a $26 billion nationwide backlog of deferred maintenance for roughly 1.2 million public housing units.

The program has the potential to greatly improve public housing, but it is important that housing is not developed in the same segregated way of past projects, said McCarthy, with the fair housing center.

The newly constructed housing must be installed in areas that do not have large concentrations of poverty, he said.

“I have confidence they are doing this for all the right reasons, and so I am hopeful it will be approved,” he said.

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