Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Langston Park will get new future, could set example
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Apr 28, 2014, 15:15

CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT The buildings at Langston will be closer together and closer to the road with the new rezoning requirements
HOPEWELL — A new future for Langston Park will soon be realized in the coming months. The housing community, built in 1962, will be redeveloped to include new housing units, increased security measures and an improved quality of life for the residents. The staff of the Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority is also looking to breathe new life in the ever-aging stock in the city.

Langston Park has been through unsuccessful renovations in years prior. The housing unit used to contain 40 units, 10 units more than the current 30 units. Those 10 units had been torn down and then rebuilt and then torn down permanently due to shrink/swell soil issues. Due to the shrink/swell soil issues, this led to the deterioration of the building structures.

“It did house people. It did provide them safe, sanitary housing when it was built, 40, 50 years ago, but we’ve had a variety of issues with the upkeep of that property,” said HRHA Executive Director Steve Benham. “At the time the issues that affected the soil, we didn’t know how to fix.”

As housing quality at Langston continued to decline, the need to replace the housing grew. Benham said over time, the HRHA could not keep pace with the cost of turning the properties over to residents as they came and went.

“We housed the lowest of the lowest income folks and the kind of property we presented attracted the lowest of the lowest income folks,” Benham said.

Madelyn Hyde, director of HRHA, said eventually the properties that the housing authority presided over were slums. She said the time had come for HRHA to make a decision on how to move forward with the aging housing stock.

As the years wore on, Benham said funding sources became less and less. With sequestration, depleting subsidies and the constant rise in cost of maintenance, HRHA could not keep the funding flowing.

After a request for proposal process HRHA chose Community Housing Partners to complete the $9.5 million project. CHP, a nonprofit master developer based in Richmond, has anticipated breaking ground on the project at the end of April, stretching to the beginning of May.

Lee Alford, development officer with CHP, said the funding for the project was $6.5 million in private equity investment, around $1.2 million came in the form of funding through the state from the housing trust fund and the remainder came from 30 year loans.

With the funding being finalized, the property now being transferred to CHP and necessary rezoning requirements and permits from the city, Lee is ready to continue and strengthen the partnership between CHP and HRHA.

The partnership will also bring some dollars into the city of Hopewell. Total local income from construction, which is wages plus business income, is estimated to be $4.5 million. Taxes and fees from construction are expected to be more than $500,000. Fifty-four local jobs in construction and other industries will be created due to the Langston Park redevelopment.

“We knew there’d be hiccups but the staff is committed. Their commitment to this was very evident,” Alford said. “That was gave us a lot of comfort, a lot of agencies don’t fully buy into this sort of model or they try it but the outcome was less important than getting recognition for trying.”

The proposed plan for Langston Park includes demolishing the 30 units and building 56 units, with 30 of the apartments being under Section 8 contract and the other 26 being rented at market rate.

“The idea is that it is going to be maintained as an affordable property for a certain period of years and investors are able to put their dollars into the project, get the tax credit and that means we don’t have to go out and borrow as much money,” Alford explained. “If we don’t have as much debt on the property we can charge more affordable rents.”

Big changes

When the process began last year, CHP and HRHA began community meetings with residents of Langston to get their feedback on the project and explain to them the relocation process, which will begin the second week of May.

“The HRHA staff has done a great job of saying we know you have fears, we know you have concerns that we want to hear about so spending a lot of time to make sure we hear those messages and in terms of planning,” Alford said. He added that it was important to make sure the residents remained a community throughout the entire process.

Alford said about 12 to 14 families will be relocated to Twin Rivers Apartments and the remaining will be relocated to Thomas Rolfe Court. Residents will also not incur any costs for relocating. CHP will cover relocation costs, such as fees for setting up cable, internet, phone and power.

CHP will also provide packing materials for each resident. As soon as residents are done packing, CHP will provide a moving company to come pick up the boxes and take them to the residents’ temporary home. The same process will occur when the resident is ready to move back into Langston Park.

When residents move back into Langston Park, which is excepted to be completed in May of 2015, they will be coming home to an improved, energy efficient, garden-style apartment.

Alford said in addition to the apartments being constructed with durable materials, the air quality at the housing community will be improved as well, such as the improvement of the HVAC heating and cooling systems.

Another part of the plan for construction on the project, HRHA along with CHP, received approval from the city to rezone Langston Park from an R-4, residential apartments, district to PUD, planned unit development.

This type of development allows for cluster housing, which creates a greater amount of open space. With a PUD, 50 percent of the total gross area of the acreage must be open space; Langston Park is 5.5 acres.

Of that 50 percent of open space, 10 percent must be recreational space, such as pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, tennis courts or playground. Langston Park will now have two playgrounds, both of which will be handicap accessible.

The new community will also address the question of safety. Hyde said at this time a person is considered trespassing if they are on the sidewalk at Langston Park, but not if they are on the road in the community.

“It’s an open street, it’s not privatized,” Hyde said. “So often times, all the time, we have issues where we’re able to issue the no trespassing notice but as soon as they walk into the street, it’s a public street.”

To remedy this for the future, CHP along with HRHA is going to privatize the street in the community, install improved lighting, add some speed tables and even narrow the street at a few points.

The plan for development also includes a new community center, which will have a centralized location in the middle of the community, which Lee said will “have a lot of eyes and a lot of openings” to make sure the community is kept safe.

Parking passes will also be issued to residents. This is to ensure that the visitors there are only the guests of residents.

“When you can hold residents accountable for their guests, their behavior tends to be a lot better,” Benham said.

An example for future

This new community in the city of Hopewell, Benham said, is the first of it’s kind in Virginia and only the third in the country. He is hopeful that it will be used as a model to be duplicated over and over again.

“We’re looking to put Hopewell on a course that they can’t back away from, that they can’t turn from. I think if we get this momentum going I think we’re just going to see this city continue to evolve,” Benham said. “It’s not just a one time, we’re going to do this, we’re committed to seeing this city evolve.”

Though demolition has not started yet on Langston, HRHA is already looking toward the future of the other properties. In 2009, a physical needs assessment was done of all the housing in the city. The assessment determined that over a span of 20 years, it would cost the housing authority $25 million just to maintain the housing in its current state. The housing was also described by the board of commissioners as “functionally obsolete.”

The next property identified to begin renovations is Kippax Place, the senior high rise.

Kippax Place was built in 1973 and has 100 units. In a report, generated in March of 2012, it was classified as being in “fair” condition.

“We have already started the community meetings with the residents of Kippax,” Hyde said. “We’ve applied for the initial tax credit, so we will continue on that, having community meetings.”

Benham added that at Kippax, the housing authority is operating on a $90,000 a year deficit in the building. The heating and venting are obsolete, the building is porous and some of the windows are the property are not fitted correctly.

The future of the housing authority in the city is ever moving forward, Benham said. He and Hyde as well as numerous other partners in the city, are wanting to continue to improve the housing stock and give each of the residents a better quality of life.

“It’s important for us that it goes well, the public comes away with a good taste in their mouth about this process that residents do benefit and we do see an improvement in the quality of their lives because we want Hopewell to come to us and say, yes we want to do this again and again and again,” Benham said. “We can preside over a guaranteed reduction in quality of life or we can try to fix it. I choose to try.”

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