Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) celebrated Friday the official presentation of a $40 million grant with federal, state, local and community representatives that will help wholly transform Western Heights and the surrounding neighborhood with enhanced access to housing, economic opportunity, transportation and youth development.
Including the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods grant, which was announced Sept. 19, more than $220 million in public and private funds have been committed to support the Transforming Western initiative.
“Transforming Western will reshape a community into one that can thrive while addressing physical barriers, residential and commercial vacancies and concentrated poverty that have kept the neighborhood from realizing its potential,” KCDC Executive Director and CEO Ben Bentley said. “This transformation became possible after 14 months of engaging the community and bringing together stakeholder voices, along with the leadership and vision of federal, state and local leaders.”
Jose Alvarez, the Region 4 administrator for HUD, officially acknowledged the Choice Neighborhoods grant to KCDC and the City of Knoxville at the celebration held at 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 three other cities across the United States that were awarded the HUD grants, which totaled $180 million, included Omaha, Nebraska; Durham, North Carolina; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“We continue to see the transformative work that the Choice Neighborhoods program achieves,” HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said. “(The grant announcements) serve as an example to communities across the United States that realizing the vison of mixed-income housing is attainable. It will take innovation to advance the cause, but these Choice Neighborhood projects, which bring 2,323 new mixed-income units, represent the kind of innovative thinking and collaboration needed to tackle our housing crisis.”
The Transforming Western initiative in Knoxville addresses three key components: 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 forever changed by this work,” said Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. “This project will result in thriving futures for generations to come with more affordable housing, better access to transportation and a heightened focus on education with the new Head Start. Thank you to HUD for this grant and for sharing in this vision for Knoxville.”
The housing component will rebuild 196 units of the affordable housing currently at Western Heights. The addition of 283 new units of affordable and market-rate housing will create a diverse, mixed-income community. The property’s location will allow the offering of various choices in housing style and highlight the aspirational views of the city and mountains. Brinshore Development and KCDC will lead the housing elements of the plan.
The neighborhood component will address safety; transportation; open space such as parks and recreation; arts, culture and entrepreneurship; and cohesiveness of the community.
Two large, regional destination parks will include features such as a hillside climbing park, playground and splashpad. Spaces for creativity and entrepreneurship will be built to create a new neighborhood economic center, and spaces for food service and an entrepreneurial kitchen will be added. Grant funds will be used in conjunction with the city’s Facade Enhancement Program to aid existing businesses in the area in need of exterior repairs or updates. The City of Knoxville will lead the neighborhood components of the plan.
The people component focuses on improving education outcomes; offering better internet access; boosting healthcare availability; establishing enrichment opportunities for youth; securing living wage jobs and career paths; and offering access to affordable, healthy and fresh foods.
Dozens of area non-profit partners will join forces and provide supportive services, programs and activities for the area’s residents. The Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) will lead the people components.
The soon-to-open Western Heights Head Start facility will provide comprehensive preschool programs for more than 130 neighborhood children from infant to age 5. Head Start and Early Head Start programming will be offered by CAC at the $5.4 million, 22,000-square-foot building located at the intersection of West Oldham Avenue and Reed Street.
The Choice Neighborhoods program leverages significant public and private funds to support these components in a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation. Additional philanthropic investment required by the grant and provided by individuals, companies and foundations will be used for site amenities and improvements.
An additional $8 million in private philanthropic investment is still needed to fully fund the project.
KCDC’s lead partners in the Transforming Western planning process include the City of Knoxville, Brinshore Development, Urban Design Associates, BarberMcMurry Architects, CVR Associates and CAC.
Information about the full plan is available at engagetheteam.com/western.
Established in 1939, Western Heights is KCDC’s largest affordable housing development at 440 units. The site is located just off Keith and Western avenues in Northwest Knoxville.