By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Cynthia Ray, 67, has lived in Southtown Court for the past 10 years and she’s heard it all before.
“I love Southtown on my end, but I’m just waiting for [the redevelopment] to happen,” she said. “I just hope it goes like they told it. They keep promising us and telling us that they’re going to do this and they’re going to do that, and it hasn’t happened yet, so we have to go with the flow.
“We don’t know whether it’s going to happen or not, and that’s a bad thing for the mind. When you stay here and pay rent, … it has you discombobulated because you don’t know what’s going to happen today or tomorrow.”
Ray and dozens of other residents recently gathered at the Southtown Court gymnasium to meet with Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD) leaders and get information about what’s ahead for the community.
Southtown Court, built in 1941, is an older development with poor site layout, outdated materials, aging infrastructure, and a lack of modern conveniences. The HABD’s plan, residents were told, is to demolish all the buildings—all 455 units, the management office, and the gym—and redevelop the area with upgraded housing and amenities; relocation options will be provided.
“That will make way for our future plan, which will include a new mixed-use development consisting of a senior building; new, affordable family units; and commercial amenities,” including more convenient grocery stores and retail shops, said Cory Stallworth, HABD Vice President of Real Estate Development and Capital Improvement.
Michael Lundy, HABD President and CEO, said the authority is indeed moving ahead this time and is in the process of putting together an application to submit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)l. They also plan to conduct a series of town hall meetings, which are required before work can begin.
“We’re looking to submit our application no later than June 1,” said Stallworth.
Part of the process is determining what happens to the residents when work begins. Lundy said relocations will not begin until next May or June because they want to be sensitive to the disruption particularly of families that have “school-age children.” He added that the HABD has been working Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring, EdD, and Chief of Staff Mark Sullivan, EdD.
“We want to make sure the relocation occurs for those families [with children] in public schools while the kids are out [for the summer] …. and finish the process by the time school reopens,” said Lundy.
Meanwhile, another resident, Timiko Hawkins, has lived at Southtown Court for nearly 10 years. The 54-year-old, who is disabled, said she was told last year that they would be relocated.
“I’m just tired of it,” she said about the wait, adding that she doesn’t care what happens at Southtown; she just wants to move.
HABD officials said they understand the frustration.
“That’s where good leadership comes into play,” said Lundy. “Part of being a good leader, a strong leader, is doing what you say you’re going to do. If you can’t, … you have to come back and explain why you weren’t able to. You have to keep your eyes on the prize. Right now, the prize is working through that demolition application … because every little step leads to the end goal.”
One of the challenges, according to Lundy: “You’re not only dealing with the mechanics of what it takes to do the redevelopment and find the funding … and putting your team together, but you also have to deal with other interests that may be anti what you’re trying to do, so you have to develop a shared vision and engage the community to have support going forward.”
Stallworth said some delays are often out of the hands of the agency.
“[Residents] may not always see the work that goes on behind the scenes,” he said. “They don’t see a lot of times that we’re moving forward … with surveys and getting the [required] approvals. That’s what’s been taking place in that year timeline before the work can actually start.”
Another part of the process was the meeting held earlier this month; others are being planned, too, Stallworth said.
“We can update them on what’s going on, [such as] the demolition application. That … could be a three-month process, … but we’re moving forward nevertheless,” he said.
Southtown Court residents have two relocation options: temporary or permanent. Those who choose temporary relocation and want to return to the newly redeveloped property will have the option of moving to other public housing communities or staying in off-site housing within the schools zoned for Southtown Court until the renovations are complete. For families that choose permanent relocation, including purchasing a home, the HABD wants to ensure that residents get started on the process, so they’ll be in a position to purchase a home by the time redevelopment takes place.
“We want to make sure everybody understands that they are given an option to return to the new site,” Stallworth said. “We’re providing relocation options away from the site, but we want to make sure [residents] understand that we’re not forcing [them] to take those options at all.”
Southtown Court residents who wish to provide feedback about the application or redevelopment plan can email Stallworth at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to the HABD corporate office: 1826 3rd Ave., Birmingham AL 35233.