Knoxville Community Development Corporation Celebrates Presentation of $40 Million Grant with Western Heights Community

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Knoxville, Tenn. (TN Tribune)-Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) on Friday celebrated the official presentation of a $40 million grant with federal, state, local and community officials that will help completely transform Western Heights and the surrounding neighborhood with a better access to housing, economic opportunities, transportation and youth development.

Including U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pick
Neighborhood Grant, which was announced on September 19, more than $220 million in public and private funds has been committed to support the Transforming Western initiative.

“Transforming Western will transform a community into one that can thrive while addressing
physical barriers, vacant residential and commercial housing and concentrated poverty that have prevented the neighborhood from realizing its potential,” said KCDC Executive Director and CEO Ben Bentley.

“This transformation has become possible after 14 months of community engagement and bringing together stakeholder voices, as well as leadership and vision from federal, state and local leaders.”

Jose Alvarez, the Region 4 administrator for HUD, officially acknowledged the choice
Neighborhood Grant to KCDC and City of Knoxville at celebration held in Western Heights.

The awarding of the highly competitive grant followed a process that began in February 2021 with insight from Western Heights residents, followed by meetings with 17 groups with a vested interest in the neighborhood. The other three cities in the United States that received HUD grants, which totaled $180 million, included Omaha, Nebraska; Durham, North Carolina; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“We continue to see the transformative work done by the Choice Neighborhoods program,” HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said. “(The grant announcements) serve as an example to communities across the United States that achieving the vision of mixed-income housing is achievable. It will take innovation to advance the cause, but these Choice Neighborhood projects , which are bringing 2,323 new mixed-income units, represent the kind of innovative thinking and collaboration needed to address our housing crisis.

The Transforming Western initiative in Knoxville addresses three key elements: housing, neighborhood and people.

“Transforming Western is an appropriate name for this project, not because of the physical changes we will see in this community, but because of the lives changed forever by this work,” said Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. “This project will mean a prosperous future for generations to come with more affordable housing, better access to transport and an increased focus on education with the new Head Start. Thanks to HUD for this grant and for sharing this vision for Knoxville.

The housing component will rebuild 196 affordable housing units currently in Western Heights. The addition of 283 new affordable and market-priced housing units will create a diverse, mixed-income community. The location of the property will allow for a variety of living style choices and showcase the ambitious city and mountain views. Brinshore Development and KCDC will lead the housing elements of the plan.

The neighborhood component will focus on security; transportation; open space such as parks and recreation; arts, culture and entrepreneurship; and community cohesion.
Two large regional destination parks will include features such as a hillside climbing park,
playground and paddling pool. Spaces for creativity and entrepreneurship will be built to create a new neighborhood economic hub, and restaurant spaces and an entrepreneurial kitchen will be added. Grant funds will be used in conjunction with the city’s facade improvement program to assist existing businesses in the area that need exterior repairs or updates. The City of Knoxville will lead the neighborhood components of the plan.

The human component focuses on improving educational outcomes; provide better Internet access; increasing the availability of health care; create enrichment opportunities for young people; securing gainful employment and career paths; and providing access to affordable, healthy and fresh food. Dozens of area not-for-profit partners will join forces and provide services, programs and support activities to area residents. The Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) will lead the human components.

The soon-to-open Western Heights Head Start facility will provide comprehensive preschool programs for more than 130 neighborhood children, from infants to 5 years old. building located at the intersection of West Oldham Avenue and Reed Street.

The Choice Neighborhoods program mobilizes significant public and private funds to support these components in a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation. Additional philanthropic investments required by the grant and provided by individuals, corporations and foundations will be used for site amenities and improvements.
An additional private philanthropic investment of $8 million is still required to fully fund the project. KCDC’s primary partners in the Transforming Western planning process include the City of Knoxville, Brinshore Development, Urban Design Associates, BarberMcMurry Architects, CVR Associates and CAC.

Full plan information is available at engagetheteam.com/western.

Founded in 1939, Western Heights is KCDC’s largest affordable housing development with 440 units. The site is located just off Keith and Western Avenues in northwest Knoxville.

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