The neighborhood was, as Michelle Jordan says frankly, “on the brink.” Crime was up. Housing prices were down. Neighborhood vitality was down even further.
But through strategy and investment, a transformation is taking place.
“We see Terry Heights as a neighborhood on the comeback,” says Jordan, Planning Director for the City of Huntsville.
The neighborhood, bordered by Holmes Ave., University Ave. and Pulaski Pike, just west of North Memorial Parkway, has had “challenges,” to use Jordan’s word. The average family income was $22,000, some $30,000 below the City’s average. Only 45 percent of the homes were owner-occupied. The neighborhood was aging.
That’s beginning to change.
“Investing in Terry Heights has resulted in homeownership, increased home values, overall neighborhood stabilization, a decrease in crime and a return of a safe neighborhood,” Jordan says.
Here’s how it’s happened:
Sonnie Hereford School
The courage of Dr. Sonnie Hereford III is part of Huntsville’s lore. In 1963, he enrolled his son Sonnie IV into Fifth Street Elementary and he became one of the first four black children entering a previously all-white public school
The family’s legacy is celebrated by the Sonnie Hereford Elementary School, which opened in 2016.
Investing in Terry Heights has resulted in overall neighborhood stabilization.” — Michelle Jordan
“It’s a beautiful school,” Jordan says. “It’s the centerpiece of the neighborhood.”
The school’s construction was part of a massive capital project by Huntsville City Schools that has revitalized a number of neighborhoods throughout the city. More specific to Terry Heights, it was part of a $25 million investment of public funds that has gone toward the neighborhood.
New Housing Built
Some 40 new single-family homes have been built in Terry Heights over the past five years through federal community development block grants, distributed through the City via organizations like Family Services Center.
The average sale price is $72,900 – higher than the neighborhood average – and all the homes were sold prior to construction, according to Jordan.
“There had been no new construction since the late ’70s or early ’80s,” she says “We’ve revived that. Our hope is private developers will come in and flood the market.”
Jordan has noticed several changes with the construction of new homes.
One, the demographics are changing, with some white and Hispanic families moving into the traditionally black neighborhood, “not to gentrify, but to add more culture to this historic neighborhood,” she says.
Two, “Once we build these homes, the neighbors on either side start painting. They start planting flowers, they start taking more care of their property,” Jordan says. “It has really spread.”
Positives outweighing negatives
The reputation of Terry Heights and its poverty have cast a negative image on the neighborhood.
The revitalization, Jordan says, is bringing to light more of the positives.
- Terry Heights “has a high-profile resident,” as Jordan notes. District One City Council Member Devyn Keith vowed that upon election he would live for a year in each of four struggling neighborhoods. He has moved into Terry Heights, “and boy, has he made a difference,” Jordan says.
- It has “a strong neighborhood association” and a community cornerstone in Second Mile, whose leaders “have put in a lot of sweat equity in making sure this neighborhood is on the rise,” Jordan says.
- Sonnie Hereford Elementary is a feeder school for Huntsville Junior High, then in turn onto Huntsville High, an education path many parents covet for their children.
- Long-time entities such as the St. Joseph Catholic Church and its school are undergoing a massive construction project that cements its long-term commitment to the area.
- The proximity to a vibrant downtown is a lure for millennials, as is the ease of transportation. Many destinations can easily be reached by bicycle or by walking, and Terry Heights will be a beneficiary of the planned Holmes Avenue Corridor, with its potential for more bike paths and a dedicated transit line and the retail and residential development it is expected to spawn.
“The city is continuing with our commitment to this neighborhood,” Jordan says. “We’re excited about the comeback we’ve seen in Terry Heights and what lies ahead.”