A distressed neighborhood near downtown is primed for growth thanks to the ongoing Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI), led by the City’s Community Development Office and Huntsville Housing Authority.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) CNI focuses on the area surrounding Butler Terrace and Butler Terrace Addition, now known as Mill Creek. Located southwest of downtown, Mill Creek is dominated by public housing and has long struggled with poverty, high crime and vacancies, and low investment.
Despite Mill Creek’s strategic location, a disconnect exists between the neighborhood and the City’s thriving space and defense economy. That’s where the CNI comes in.
“In 2018, we were awarded a $1.3 million grant to create a plan to transform housing owned by the Huntsville Housing Authority and the surrounding neighborhood,” said Community Development Manager Scott Erwin. “Over the next 2 ½ years, we would engage over 250 citizens to develop a transformation plan for the Mill Creek area.”
Throughout the planning process, the City and Housing Authority worked closely with social service organizations, churches, medical providers, colleges and universities, businesses, arts and entertainment, and more to gather input and address neighborhood concerns.
Citizens participated in steering and planning committees, resident surveys, visioning workshops, working groups and more.
“This work occurred during COVID,” Erwin said. “We found a lot of creative ways to do Zoom meetings and social distancing to continue to engage. We had robust discussion from all neighborhoods because this is the future and a significant transformational project for the City of Huntsville.”
The CNI is focused on three core goals:
- Housing: Transform distressed public and assisted housing into energy efficient, mixed-income housing that is physically and financially viable over the long-term;
- People: Support positive outcomes for families who live in the target development and the surrounding neighborhood, particularly outcomes related to residents’ health, safety, employment, mobility and education; and
- Neighborhoods: Convert distressed, high-poverty neighborhoods into viable, mixed-income and sustainable neighborhoods with access to well-functioning services, high quality public schools and education programs, high quality early learning programs and services, public assets, public transportation and improved access to jobs.
To achieve these goals, successful applicants must develop and implement a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy, or transformation plan. This plan will become the guiding document for the revitalization of the public and/or assisted housing units, while simultaneously directing the transformation of the surrounding neighborhood and positive outcomes for families.
The Mill Creek transformation plan includes:
- A mix of market rate, Housing Authority, workforce and senior housing
- Pedestrian-oriented shopping focused on the Governors Drive and Clinton Avenue corridors
- Updates to infrastructure, including utilities and the street grid
- Additions of green space, neighborhood park and the restoration of creek as a neighborhood amenity
- Increasing density as an extension of downtown
- More employment, training and educational opportunities
The final version of the plan is available for download. Erwin said it is the culmination of more than two years of hard work from the planning team, resident ambassadors, steering committee and community.
“This isn’t a ready-to-implement tomorrow plan,” he said. “This is what we’ve discovered through public engagement for the past 2 ½ years. Much work has to take place as we move forward.”
Erwin said the next step is to procure a consultant to help the City and Housing Authority apply for a $30-50 million CNI implementation grant, which would fund projects such as:
- Neighborhood infrastructure
- Replacement of affordable housing
- Employment opportunities
- Health and education
- Private investment
The City is engaging Urban Design Associates to provide design guidelines to ensure a quality project. UDA’s assistance will help define standards for the project and future development partners. Developers will be selected based on project needs and design standards.
“We are hopeful and excited for what’s to come in the Mill Creek area,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “We thank our partners at the Housing Authority and appreciate the confidence HUD has had in our community so far.”
As part of the $1.3 million CNI grant funds, Erwin said the City has allotted $950,000 to execute the Governors Drive Action Activity Beautification Project. The City, which resurfaced a portion of Governors last year, plans to do additional beautification, including decorative lighting, irrigation, banners, thermoplastic crosswalks and more. The project should be complete within 12-18 months.
In the next year, the City will also demolish vacated units for the Housing Authority in the Mill Creek area. Erwin said Community Development will ask the Council for consideration to help fund that effort when the Housing Authority is ready to proceed.
To view the Mill Creek plan, click here.