Everyone wants to know what is happening with the Southtown development in Southside. Below is an update.
The new development will replace the current community that was built in 1941. Its poor layout, aging infrastructure and lack of modern amenities have been cited as reasons to demolish the property. The plans include a mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, housing, a senior center and green space. Housing will be a mix of affordable and market-rate options, and there will also be a senior living component.
The developer of the project, Southside Development Co., is a partnership between Bayer Properties, Corporate Realty, Brasfield & Gorrie, A.G. Gaston Construction, SPM Property Management, the Benoit Group, BREC Development and Gensler. They are working with the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD) on the master development plan for the $26 million-dollar-property.
According to Cardell Davis, chairman of the HABD board, “Development comes at a cost. You have to be sensitive to the needs of the residents.” There are approximately 1,000 residents currently living at Southtown Court, and the new development means they will need to find other places to live.
A Birmingham-area attorney, Richard Rice, has been working with residents to ensure their voices are heard. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of five residents in 2017, alleging that the new development would be in violation of the Fair Housing Act since residents–who are predominately African American–will be displaced. Mayor Woodfin voiced his support for the lawsuit when it was filed. Although it has since been dismissed, Rice believes the lawsuit made the developer and the HABD pay more attention to Southtown’s current residents.
“My objective was never to stop the development, but to make sure it was done in compliance with the law.”Richard Rice
Although there is housing associated with the new development, the number of units planned will not fully replace the current 455 apartments. As part of the Master Development Agreement, the HABD board will also need to approve a relocation strategy for current residents.
“When you look at sheer numbers, you’re talking about 455 [current] units. We’re coming back with 220, so you’re talking about a reduction in units. Our other sites across the city are near capacity. It’s concerning to me where residents are going to go. I want to feel comfortable with that relocation strategy.”Cardell Davis
The developer and HABD enlisted a third-party group to canvas Southtown and inquire about residents’ preferences. They’ve also held open house meetings and sent notices to keep residents informed, but some feel there has been a lack of information.
Irene Johnson, resident of Southtown and president of the Southtown Neighborhood Association, said lack of communication was “the reason for the lawsuit.” However, Johnson says, “We are beyond that now. The last meeting was very good.”
She doesn’t mind moving, either. “I don’t have a problem with leaving this site. The building really needs to come down. It’s a waste of tax dollars to come in here and redo them,” she said.
Each family has an assigned caseworker to work with them on their needs. Residents will have the option to return to the new site, move to other public housing communities or offsite housing within the same school district, obtain priority for a Section 8 voucher (permanent relocation) or participate in HABD’s home ownership program.
“Our ultimate goal–the goal of public housing in general–is that residents become self-sufficient, make a living wage and are able to transition themselves into the larger community.”Cardell Davis
At the most recent HABD board meeting on May 21, the Application for Demolition was struck from the agenda. This application will need to be sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for approval, which is expected to take at least 90 days. The next HABD board meeting is June 17.
Additionally, the HABD board still needs to approve the Master Development Agreement from the developer and HABD staff. Before that happens, the board wants to review the relocation strategy.
“Until we see the relocation strategy, there will not be a signed Master Development Agreement.”Cardell Davis
Davis would also like to see another community forum before approval of the Master Development Agreement to ensure everyone is informed.
Relocation and redevelopment
Relocation is expected to take place in May of 2020, pending HUD approval. Stakeholders want to ensure residents are not disrupted during the school year. Residents will be given a 90-day notice before it is time to move, and HABD will be assisting with moving expenses after HUD approves the project. The City of Birmingham will also be engaged after HUD approval.
Richard Rice is continuing his work with the residents of Southtown. He’s proposing a Community Benefits Agreement to the HABD board in the coming weeks. According to Rice, the goal of the agreement is “to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification and direct some of the profit toward restorative justice and low-income families.” The agreement would address residents’ relocation concerns, as well as systemic issues like lack of education and drug addiction. Further, he is proposing a home ownership program in which Section 8 vouchers could be pooled for a construction loan to build a new community for residents looking to own their own homes.
Irene Johnson fully supports the Community Benefits Agreement. “If nothing else comes from this, give the young people training in a trade and put them in a position to be able to work.”
“When we have an asset like this in the possession of the housing authority, it’s an opportunity for change. How can we make public housing better and make our city better?”Richard Rice
Davis also says that current residents of Southtown will be given opportunities to participate in the redevelopment efforts.
“This is a major, transformative project for the city of Birmingham. We want to make sure it’s inclusive and representative of minorities and residents. We are holding the developer and ourselves accountable for creating opportunities for residents and the city of Birmingham.”Cardell Davis
How you can give input
You can send questions about plans to the developer via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The next HABD board meeting is scheduled for June 17, and the public is always invited for comment. There is also a Friends of Southtown Court Facebook group with ongoing discussion.
Stay tuned for more updates from Bham Now.