Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HUD Secretary: Villages at Roll Hill a 'model' for the country

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan spoke at the ribbon-cutting for the Villages at Roll Hill on Dec. 4, calling it "a model for what we should be doing around the country."

Wallick-Hendy Development spent 27 months and $36 million to renovate the 703-unit complex, built in 1962 and formerly known as the Fay Apartments.

Seventeen buildings were razed as part of the project, lowering the number of units by 190 and dropping the neighborhood's population from 2,700 to approximately 1,900. Additional security measures, such as cameras, lighting and fencing, have been installed throughout, and there is now a larger community center and children's playground.

The project is currently seeking LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which would make it the largest green renovation of an affordable housing community in the nation.

Green features include energy efficient windows and doors, new HVAC systems, environmentally-friendly carpet and paint, low-flow water fixtures, improved insulation, and LED lighting. It is estimated that these improvements will provide a 25 percent saving in energy costs.

It almost didn't happen

In the works since 2006, the money almost didn't come through. In 2008, the developers were within two to three months of closing on the property when the housing crash led to a loss of tax credit equity and other financing.

"Those were the dark hours, because we had worked for two years," said Dave Hendy, managing director of Wallick-Hendy Development. "We had spent a lot of time and a lot of money. We had working drawings, we were ready to go. To say we were discouraged was a huge understatement."

Eventually, funding for the project came through with a $31.6 million loan through HUD's Office of Affordable Housing Preservation, a $3.2 million City loan, and $1.5 million in developer equity.

Donovan said that HUD's measure of people with "worst case housing needs" rose 20 percent between 2007 and 2009, with 1.2 million families fitting that category today. And over the past ten years, two affordable housing units have been lost for each three units built.

"It's no coincidence that the places that face the brunt of the economic crisis that we're emerging from, that had the highest foreclosure rates, the deepest job losses, often had the most troubled housing, the poorest performing schools, minimal access to transportation, and, most importantly, so little economic opportunity for the residents," he said.

"Roll Hill has been a part of the Cincinnati community for a very long time, and so it is very exciting to see these 79 acres basically have a new and renewed life," said Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. "This renovation was a very big job and will have a great economic development impact," she said, noting that 252 jobs were supported during construction and over $2 million in local economic impact was created.

A 'sea change'

According to Donovan, this is a unique time for our country, our economy, and our communities.

"For all of the challenges that we face right now, we have to turn our challenges into opportunities," he said. "We have to take this opportunity to make our communities more inclusive, more prosperous, and more sustainable."

That sustainability comes not only from environmental improvements, but from economic and social improvements as well, he said.

"I see this as representing what I hope will be a sea change for affordable housing across the country," Donovan said. "And what I mean by that is this is not just about the priority that the President or I place on greening our affordable housing stock. If we can create a real market transformation, where what we show is that with private partners bringing private capital in, that by saving money in the long run...with those savings, we don't have to just depend on the public sector to provide the funding to do this."

To Donovan, that means developing housing that residents love and are passionate about, in communities where they can raise their children, gain access to opportunity, and be able to retire with dignity – with a fair shot at the American Dream.

"When we do these revitalizations right, it is something that happens not to the residents, but for the residents who have seen the hard times and should benefit from the good times that we are celebrating today," he said.

Safe and decent housing

Qualls said that the City had a firm commitment to provide safe and decent housing for residents in one of Cincinnati's historically most-troubled neighborhoods.

"Safe and decent housing also is very important in the City of Cincinnati and to the City of Cincinnati because it is one aspect of creating strong neighborhoods, without which we would not actually be successful as a City," she said. "But also, in addition, without those strong neighborhoods and committed residents of those neighborhoods, our City cannot grow and thrive."

Work is not entirely completed, but should wrap up within the next two months.

Photos courtesy of the Wallick Companies

Previous reading on BC:
LEED status in doubt, Fay developers get new CRA agreement (5/24/10)
Fay developer gets funding for $32M rehabilitation (7/2/09)
Future of Fay Apartments in doubt (4/30/08)