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An asset-based, participatory approach to redevelopment


Gregg Warren, President, DHIC, Inc.

Challenge: The sale of Washington Terrace, a neglected historic landmark for east Raleigh's African-American community, highlighted concerns about gentrification and displacement. DHIC needed to create a redevelopment plan that would respect the culture of the neighborhood, address displacement fears and respond to needs of long-time residents and newer, modest-income families.

A black woman and three black men stand around development plans for east Raleigh, North Carolina

In 1974, DHIC was established in Raleigh, NC with the mission to create and support communities that are diverse, economically vibrant and affordable. DHIC develops rental apartments for families, individuals and seniors with limited incomes; offers homeownership counseling, education and down-payment assistance programs; constructs affordable homes for first-time homebuyers, and provides community services that promote healthy neighborhoods, develop resident leadership and encourage resident self-sufficiency and connection to community resources.

In 2014, DHIC purchased Washington Terrace out of foreclosure — an aging 25-acre, 245-unit, low-income housing project in the heart of east Raleigh's historic African-American community. Built in 1950, Washington Terrace is known as the first rental community built for African-American professionals and was the home of many local public figures and leaders. Over the years it has retained a strong sense of community. Today, more than 70 percent of residents at Washington Terrace and in the surrounding neighborhood are African American, many of them long-time residents who cherish the rich history and culture of the neighborhood.

However, because of chronic disinvestment and its close proximity to the popular downtown area, where rents and housing prices are on the rise, the residents of Washington Terrace and the surrounding neighborhood face the competing pressures of blight and gentrification. The sale of Washington Terrace and the redevelopment goals of Raleigh officials made many residents and neighbors fear that displacement would soon follow. They did not trust that they would have a voice in the redevelopment process.

DHIC recognized that active and authentic community engagement was vital for building residents' and neighbors' trust.

"The people of this community must have a strong voice in this process," said Yvette Holmes, vice president of resource development and partnerships at DHIC. "It's about tapping into the considerable knowledge, insight and needs of individuals and families who are traditionally overlooked, but who stand to gain the most from an authentic process that includes them."

A black woman, a black man, and a white woman stand around development plans for east Raleigh, North CarolinaDHIC organized a master planning team of project managers, resident services staff, an experienced urban design firm, city planners and a respected communications consultant who grew up in the neighborhood to develop and implement a highly-engaged community input process for the redevelopment of Washington Terrace. The process included continuous communication and deep relationship-building meetings with the residents of Washington Terrace, neighbors from surrounding communities, anchor institutions and community stakeholders such as St. Augustine's University (a historically black university), the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club. More than 350 residents, civic and non-profit leaders and other stakeholders participated in this process, which included a number of public information meetings, design charrettes, drop-in sessions, one-on-one stakeholder meetings, peer-to-peer meetings and resident-only information sessions. Voices were heard. Concerns were addressed. Suggestions were taken into account.

After a year-long process, the master plan for the new Washington Terrace was presented to the public in December 2015. The Washington Terrace community gave it an enthusiastic nod of approval.

Phase I is now underway and will result in 162 multi-family apartments, a new community center, children's play areas, recreation and green space, a community garden and a child care center. Many residents asked for other amenities such as washer/dryer hook-ups, energy-efficient appliances and better street lighting, which have been included in the master plan. The community-engaged planning process also highlighted the need for services and amenities such as health care, healthy food and family-friendly retail, some of which will be addressed in this or later phases.

Phase II of this development will include 72 units of affordable housing for seniors. Other phases will likely include homes-for-sale. DHIC plans to implement a pilot financial capability workshop series in the neighborhood to build a local pipeline of mortgage-ready families who want to extend their roots in the community.

Proving to be the largest and most significant project in DHIC's history, Washington Terrace offers a rare opportunity to transform a neglected neighborhood while continuing to honor the important cultural, historic and social elements of this community. DHIC's model of community-engaged master planning has set the precedent for future neighborhood redevelopment in other parts of the city. The common goal will be to use an asset-based, participatory approach that aims to maintain affordability and reduce displacement, both of which are concerns of area residents.

This project illustrates the importance of:
  1. Involving the community and stake-holders at all stages of the redevelopment.
  2. Building trust with the community through multiple forms of outreach and public engagement.
  3. Encouraging community input and incorporating their ideas, needs and suggestions in the development.

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