Avondale's new workforce housing symbolizes hope, achievement for Black residents

Hale Avenue Townhomes Ground Breaking.jpg
Posted at 7:59 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 21:56:08-05

CINCINNATI — A workforce housing development is coming to Avondale, and locals said they’re thrilled about the hope and wealth the project is slated to bring to the community.

The Avondale Development Corporation broke ground on the first phase of the Hale Avenue Townhomes project Thursday. Seven new townhomes with two- and three-bedroom units will be constructed at a plot on Hale Avenue between Harvey Avenue and Hallwood Place. The units will cost between $230,000 and $260,000, price points geared toward families making 120% of the area median income.

“It gives opportunity for families to have ownership here in the community instead of just having to rely on apartment living,” said Terresa Adams, treasurer of the Avondale Community Council.

Vince Terry, ADC's vice chair, said the development is in the second-highest employment zone of Cincinnati, "so to have home ownership here in walking distance to a lot of the jobs is going to be amazing."

The housing development signifies a number of achievements for its coordinators, almost all of whom come from marginalized backgrounds. The townhomes are the first development led by Black women in Avondale, with Maria Collins of ADC and architect Bridget Harris, president of BTH Construction Delivery, at the helm. The project is also noteworthy for primarily being supported by entities owned and operated by people of color — Kaiker Development & Construction, owned by Kai Lewars, is the general contractor for the project.

“It’s been wonderful working with the other firms and organizations that all have contributed professionally to make this project happen,” Lewars said.

Lewars noted how rare it is for Black firms to have the opportunity to collaborate and make developments like the townhomes a reality. The fact that it is a Black-led development has helped him allay the fears of onlookers who sensed that the townhomes would result in gentrification.

“From the community itself to the Black professionals that have been on contract, whether that has been on contract or volunteering their time, it’s taken a little bit of everybody to bring it to fruition — and I know the community appreciates it," Lewars said.

“Being a minority female leading this charge and being this is our first project ever as a non-profit, there were a lot of people out there that questioned whether we would have the capacity or the ability to make this happen,” said Maria Collins, ADC's real estate and community development director. “I think that’s what’s really significant in this whole process and why we ran into so many obstacles. We didn’t have a proven track record yet.”

Still, Collins said a small group of people believed in the effort and helped push her team along.

“Those people worked with us to make sure we could break ground on this project and I appreciate their support and their partnership to this day," Collins said.

This is the ADC’s first stand-alone project. There will ultimately be two dozen townhomes built at Hale and Hallwood Avenues over the course of three phases. The homes are particularly being marketed toward Black and first-time homebuyers. Organizers say they want to foster opportunities for aspiring Black homeowners and provide them with equity in the neighborhood.

ADC officials note that only about 27% of Avondale residents are homeowners, while the remaining, vast majority of locals are in rental properties. They hope that projects like the Hale Avenue Townhomes will keep introducing more affordable housing to Avondale and surrounding areas.

“There’s just not enough of that stock in Cincinnati and we’re excited about being able to provide that,” Harris said. “This is something that hasn’t happened in the past, and so that makes it even more special that we’re actually here, we’re breaking ground and that this project is going to get moving and get built.”

“We want to make an appreciable difference in what it means to be an owner here in Avondale so that when you think about this community as an owner, you think about this as a place where you want your kids to be, your grandparents to be. You want to be able to contribute to the community and make it a beautiful place,” said Royce Sutton, a board chair of the ADC.

These townhomes are part of a dramatic uptick in major neighborhood improvements and investments toward what was once a distressed neighborhood. Last month, Fifth Third Bank announced it was investing $20 million into Avondale as part of a revitalization effort for predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout the country.

Nearby, the expansion of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the development of the Uptown Innovation Corridor at Martin Luther King Boulevard are other signifiers of Avondale’s transformation happening in real time. Despite all of the changes, leaders say they want all residents ⁠— new and old⁠ — to feel like they have a place in the community.

“Avondale is one of the most desirable communities in the city right now,” said Tony Moore, the president of the Avondale Community Council. “What we are concerned about is: how do we get the current residents to stay that want to stay and have them co-mingle with the new residents? That’s our job: to keep what we’ve got and to grow on what we will have.”

Like Moore, Russell Hairston, the executive director of the Avondale Development Corporation, acknowledges the anxieties of longtime residents who fear being pushed out because of the new development coming to the neighborhood. He upholds affordable housing projects like the Hale Avenue Townhomes as a solution for more vulnerable people to still find stability and better quality of life in Avondale. He also is optimistic about the positive message this development is sending to the community.

“When you’ve dealt with intergenerational poverty, when you’ve dealt with crime, when you’ve dealt with all of the hardships that a distressed community has to go through, it’s uplifting to see development. It’s uplifting to see homeownership. It’s uplifting for the kids to see that if they want to become an architect, developer, banker or a non-profit director, look: you can do it.”

Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.

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