In January the Housing Authority Birmingham District (HABD) announced it had selected a building conglomerate to raze and redevelop the 25-acre Southtown Court housing project and transform the property into a mixed-use community, complete with retail and market-rate housing.
The newly minted conglomerate, the Southside Development Company, is comprised of several big-name companies, including Brasfield & Gorrie, Bayer Properties, A.G. Gaston Construction, the Benoit Group, SPM Property Management, Corporate Realty, and BREC Development.
While the group is still in the process of finalizing a master plan for what is considered to be one of Birmingham’s most valuable pieces of real estate — nestled on a ridge along University Boulevard, just west of the Red Mountain Expressway — HABD Director Michael Lundy shared his thoughts on the project and how he hopes to address concerns revolving around resident relocation and gentrification.
Weld: It’s been some time since there has been any news with the redevelopment of Southtown Court. Where do the plans currently stand?
Lundy: As you may know, we put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) several months ago for developers. We went through the process and we selected Southside Development Company. We’re in the process now of negotiating with them elements of the development agreement and business terms, that sort of things. The expectation is, probably within the next 30 days or so, we should be ready to start talking about a master development plan. That’s one side of the development activity.
On the other side, with respect to the residents, we’re meeting with them on a regular basis. The last meeting was a couple months ago. We let them know we’re going to redevelop the site and we have a developer partner, and as it relates to relocation we will be working with the residents to assist them. The plan is to have some affordable housing on site. But we are looking to have other development components.
Weld: What exactly are some of those development components you referred to?
Lundy: Things like private sector, market-rate residential, recreational space. We hope to get a lot of support and investments from some of the stakeholders within the community, because I see it more of a shared vision than just a vision from the Housing Authority or just a vision from the developers. We want to make sure it’s going to be in the best long-term interests of the housing authority and the city of Birmingham.
Weld: Will there be enough affordable housing units for everyone who currently lives there to be able to come back?
Lundy: Right now we have 455 units there, but you have to keep in mind not all of them are occupied. We do have some vacancies. I don’t envision bringing 455 public housing units back on site, but there will be some affordable housing. What we’re looking for is a real nice, mixed-use, mixed-income community.
Weld: How would that relocation process work for current residents?
Lundy: We haven’t finalized it at this point, but typically they will have several choices. One choice might be to return on site to the Southtown Court affordable housing unit. Another option would be to relocate to another public housing site. Some families may participate in our family self-sufficiency program where they would choose to move out of public housing and into the private sector through workforce development. Then you could have some families who would be using a voucher.
Weld: You mentioned the master plan has not yet been finalized, but is there a general timeframe on when the project will get underway?
Lundy: I’m hoping we will have a master development plan within 90 days to six months.
Weld: But is there a timeframe on when the actual construction will begin in Southtown, or is it too early to start talking about that?
Lundy: It’s a little early to be talking about that. We’re meeting with our developer partners trying to work out the details of our agreements which should happen within 30 to 45 days. Once we do that we’ll take it to our board of commissioners. After that we’ll start drilling down on our master plan.
Weld: Ideally, what would this new development look like to you?
Lundy: I could see having some retail — stores and shops — maybe an anchor store or business with UAB and St. Vincent’s being in the immediate neighborhood. I could see partnerships with Southern Research Center as well. I could see all those major partners work with us to come up with a redevelopment that would benefit all the development partners, the city of Birmingham and the housing authority. I see some private, market-rate housing.
I see some affordable housing. I would like to see the affordable housing mixed in with the market-rate housing as opposed to segregated. We can envision recreational space, maybe a park or a passive park, that sort of thing. Since we have several hospitals, I could certainly see medical services that would support the community. The big picture — I see it stimulating job growth in Birmingham. So there would be some permanent jobs as a result of the redevelopment. Also, it would be able to provide jobs for the residents we serve.
Weld: Any time you have a development like this where low-income families are going to inevitably be relocated you run into concerns about gentrification. How do you plan on addressing gentrification as it relates to this project?
Lundy: My view is that we’re going to be very thoughtful and intentional when it comes to developing the site and sensitive to how we develop our relocation plan — and that we engage our residents and that each solution will be targeted toward each family. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Of course, as we move forward, there will be several levels of approval. It will need to be approved by our board of commissions. It will have to be approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. One of the things that’s really important is we’ve put together an advisory council with stakeholders in the community as well as residents. As we move forward we will have them weigh in with their concerns, their ideas, so that we can incorporate that into our final development plan. It’s not going to be a top-down process. It’s going to be very inclusive.