Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) has earned a $40 million federal grant for Transforming Western, a comprehensive plan to transform Western Heights and the surrounding neighborhood that will include affordable housing and improved access to transportation, housing and economic stability.
With the addition of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods grant, more than $220 million in funds have been committed to support the people, neighborhood, and housing.
“Transforming Western truly represents a collaborative effort after 14 months of intensive community engagement,” KCDC Executive Director and CEO Ben Bentley said. “This plan is a synthesis of the dreams and ideas of the residents, community members and stakeholders and will transform Western Heights and the Beaumont neighborhood into a community where families and residents can thrive.”
The awarding of the competitive Choice Neighborhoods grant from HUD 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 resulting Transforming Western plan covers the renovation and replacement of residential structures, along with employment opportunities, transportation, safety, better access to health care and improved internet access.
KCDC’s lead partners in the Transforming Western planning process include Brinshore Development, Urban Design Associates, BarberMcMurry Architects, CVR Associates and Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC).
“We took the time to listen to the needs, concerns, and most importantly, the dreams of the people of Western Heights and Beaumont,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “The City is committed to investing $26.5 million to support infrastructure and affordable housing in this community. This grant also means residents will have more access to early education, recreational spaces, transportation resources and health care, all which can lead to a brighter future! We also want to thank KCDC, as a partner of the City of Knoxville, for its efforts to pursue resources and funds to connect this community.”
The first step of the overall initiative is nearly complete with the soon-to-open Western Heights Head Start facility, which will provide comprehensive preschool programs for neighborhood children from infant to age 5. The $5.4 million, 22,000-square-foot building, located at the intersection of West Oldham Avenue and Reed Street, will offer Head Start and Early Head Start programming by CAC to more than 130 children.
“A commitment of more than $120 million has been made by 95 partners through in-kind support in programmatic and social services for the benefit of neighborhood residents,” said Marisa Moazen, vice president for strategic partnerships for KCDC and Transforming Western project director. “This coordination of service through a place-based services model is a first-of-its-kind effort in Knoxville.”
The Transforming Western initiative will include rebuilding or significantly renovating the affordable housing already available at Western Heights and will offer more affordable housing units than currently located on-site. Additional units for people of varied income levels also will be available. Information about the full plan is available at transformingwestern.com.
“Knoxville was one of a handful of cities across the country to receive this funding,” U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett said. “That is a tribute to the leadership of KCDC and the City of Knoxville. Transforming Western will do exactly what its name says – transform a community and provide a place where families can thrive.”
The CAC will serve as the “People Partner” for Transforming Western and will provide case management, coordinated supportive services from a diverse set of partner organizations, resident engagement and programs tailored to the needs of the residents, all in an effort to strive for improved community outcomes.
“Place matters and for low-income families growing up in an area of concentrated poverty, it can be difficult to get good outcomes,” CAC Executive Director Barbara Kelly said. “This is a chance of a lifetime for CAC to bring coordinated services, relationships and expertise to a neighborhood that has experienced concentrated poverty for decades.”
The Choice Neighborhoods program leverages significant public and private funds to support implementation of locally driven strategies to improve public housing through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation. The program also requires the development of housing at varied income levels, including low-income and affordable housing. According to HUD research, residents of mixed-income sites experience better quality housing; lower neighborhood unemployment and poverty; and increased safety.
Additional philanthropic investment required by the grant and provided by individuals, companies and foundations will be used for site amenities such as parks, greenspaces, community spaces and social services. Among the areas that will be addressed are arts, culture and entrepreneurship to anchor the community; enrichment options for youth; and access to affordable, healthy and fresh food options. An additional $8 million in private philanthropic investment is still needed to fully fund the project.
The community is invited to a celebration event in the Western Heights community on Friday, Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. near the intersection of McSpadden Street and Virginia Avenue. Officials from KCDC, the City of Knoxville, HUD and other organizations will share further details about the Transforming Western plan.
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.