Housing director: Redevelopment won’t displace Southside residents

Brenda Williams


By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

While skeptics of plans to redevelop the Orange Avenue Apartments have expressed concern that current residents will be displaced, the Tallahassee Housing Authority director said there is a plan in place to make sure that gentrification doesn’t occur.

Making sure every family that lives in the 200 units has a place to relocate is a priority in the initial stage of the project, said Brenda Williams, director of the Housing Authority. The first phase of the redevelopment will include building an off-site location for some residents, while others will have the option of using vouchers for housing elsewhere, she said.

Current residents also will have first option on the new homes when they are completed, she said. The initial phase could begin as early as next fall and the entire project could take as many as seven years for completion.

“Every tenant on that (Orange Avenue Apartments) will have the opportunity to return to a new, redeveloped unit,” Williams said. “We are going to have to walk the line to ensure that those people who want to stay in the community can stay.

“There may a need to look at some local policy regarding taxing issues that may need to be revamped for this area.”
The redevelopment will extend beyond the 40-year-old complex that sits on 29 acres near the corner of Orange Avenue and Country Club Drive. It will include the corridor that stretched from Adams Street to Blairstone Road.
According to a master plan, which Williams said still has to be approved by the Housing Authority’s board, the area will be transformed into a mix-use community. The board will consider a first draft of the plan on April 25, Williams said.

Williams expressed optimism that the board would approve plans for the project to move forward.

“I’m very excited about being able to make a difference in a community that has been neglected for many, many years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to more economic opportunity; not only for those that are living at the site, but for that entire community.

“When you look at the rest of the city, you see development everywhere but the south side.”

Area residents have been engaged in the planning process since the Housing Authority hired Columbia Residential to undertake planning of the project. During the last six months, the company’s chief development officer Ray Kuniansky, and designer Brian Keith of JHP Architectural/Urban Design have held meetings with Orange Avenue Apartments’ tenants and residents from surrounding areas.

Government and non-profit organizations also participated in the meetings, Kuniansky said.

“That’s who sat down around the table with us, with a map of the area and said, ‘hey, we think the grocery store should be here, the school should be here and the pharmacy should be there.’ ”

Christic Henry, a Southside advocate who also represents Capital Area Neighborhood Network, applauded the involvement of residents. Residents should continue to be included as the redevelopment progresses, she said.

“When I say that, in mean economic involvement, opportunity involvement where contractors from the community are engaged to do work,” she said. “Another part of that will be mitigation of a lot of the concerns that residents have in terms of crime deterrent.”

The project, which is a part of a HUD directive for 250,000 low-income unites to be built in the state, got off the ground in earnest two years ago when Williams reached out to the Tampa Housing Authority. That agency, which is known for its redevelopment projects, assisted with proposals for the Orange Avenue redevelopment, Williams said.
City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who has long been advocating for redevelopment on the Southside, said the project will breathe new life into the community.

“It will be transformational for the south side of Tallahassee,” he said. “This is the largest mixed use housing in the history of the city. It is going to bring businesses to the area. I’m just excited about it.”

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