Franklin Heights Renovation Completed

Jeremiah Knupp -- June 18th, 2010

You’ve probably noticed it driving down Reservoir Street over the past two years; the row of houses quarantined behind a line of chain link fence. The neighborhood, known as Franklin Heights, is subsidized housing in the midst of revitalization. This Friday will mark the completion of a city-wide housing renovation project nearly six years in the making.

In 2000, an article in Eighty One (and discussed here) detailed Harrisonburg’s Project R4 from the 1950s and ‘60s, an urban renewal program and early lesson in eminent domain, which changed Harrisonburg’s downtown area and created public housing projects like Franklin Heights and Harrison Heights.

In 2004 the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) held community meetings and did a master assessment of the city’s public housing with an eye to the future. The decision was made to renovate the 100 housing units owned by HRHA according to executive director Michael Wong.

“The housing was mechanically antiquated in terms of the electrical, plumbing and heating systems,” Wong said. “They hadn’t had a renovation since they were originally built.”

The Franklin Heights complex was one of the first projects for the then new HRHA when it was originally constructed in 1958. It consisted of 16 buildings that included 32 units of two and three bedroom housing.

The renovation project was not without complication. The original plan was to raze the Franklin Heights buildings and rebuild new structures on the site. These plans were scrapped in April 2008 when it was discovered that foundations could not be rebuilt because the site was formerly a landfill and excavating for new foundations could uncover potential health hazards (the site is safe if it is left as is, according to Wong).

Wong pointed out that the renovation was more than aesthetics. The re-construction focused on “crime prevention through environmental design,” which incorporates features like front porches, security cameras and better lighting to make the neighborhood safer. Handicapped accessible units were increased four times, from four units to sixteen. The new construction is also EarthCraft certified, meaning that the project focused on using recycled materials and creating an energy efficiency that can result in a savings of up to 30 percent for heating and cooling costs.

“Those are savings that are passed right on to our tenants by a reduction in their rent costs,” Wong noted of the cost savings of an energy efficient design.

 The Franklin Heights renovation closely mirrored HRHA’s redevelopment of their Harrison Height housing on Kelley Street. Completed in 2008, the Harrison Heights project garnered awards from EarthCraft Virginia and the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officals.

With the completion of the Franklin Heights renovation, HRHA has renovated nearly 100 public housing units around the city in the last two years. The Franklin Heights units cost $60,000 each to renovate. Part of the funds came from federal Community Development Block Grants and grants from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The remainder came from tax-exempt bond financing through the city.

“The benefit [of the renovation] is that we’re building a neighborhood into a community and adding value to that community,” Wong said.

But for many who watched the renovation of Franklin Heights one question prevailed: What happened to the people who used to live there?

“That’s one of the questions I get most often,” Wong said. “People seem to think that we kicked them out on the street or made them homeless, but there is actually a formal legal process about how you go about relocating people.”

All of Franklin Heights residents were relocated to either other HRHA housing (like Harrison Heights) or made part of a housing voucher program that allowed them to afford private rentals. Wong noted that none of the residents moved from Franklin Heights for the renovation were among those who were originally relocated from downtown for the Project R4.

 The renovation projects also mark HRHA’s move from a “public housing” to a “project-based” model that is open to individuals or families whose income is below 50 percent of the local median income. The residents are not permanent unless they are elderly or disabled. Others are put on a plan of self-sufficiency, usually on a five year model, that requires employment and encourages personal savings.

“HRHA serves a population that isn’t served by anyone else,” Wong said. “Our goal is to meet the basic need for affordable housing in our community.”

In the future, HRHA hopes to add more units to its housing units, not through new construction but by renovating existing buildings.

“We hope this project will be a “spring board” for our plans for the future,” Wong said of the Franklin Heights renovation.

Plans are for new residents to move into Franklin Heights next week. Wong expects some of the residents who were relocated for the renovation to return.

HRHA will host a grand opening of the Franklin Heights Apartment Complex on Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. The community is invited to the event, which will take place on East Bruce Street extended, near the corner of Reservoir and Myers and include a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4 p.m.

All photos provided by the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

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21 Responses to “Franklin Heights Renovation Completed”

  1. Annie says:

    I’ve been watching this reconstruction. They are beautiful and I think really enhance the community. Good Job!

  2. David Miller says:

    The neighborhood looks so much better. I’m glad that the city didn’t let the houses sit and rot, further. Seems like a quality asset for helping poverty stricken families get back on their feet.

  3. Emmy says:

    Looks great!

  4. Renee says:

    Glad they fixed the area up, and I like the ‘design for crime reduction’ idea. Nice article, Jeremiah!

  5. I especially like Harrison Heights on Kelley Street…they’re properties are looking so nice that I took a picture of a nice, new BMW 7-series, and an Infiniti SUV…but that was probably just a coincidence.

  6. kuato says:

    Great job on the renovations. Everything looks great. And it is nice to know, after reading the article, that the renovations have substance above the obvious cosmetic improvements.

  7. Paul says:

    What are the financial arrangements for these apartments? Do tenants have anyway to pay towards ownership? If they are just rentals, they are likely to be abused. As a friend once said about rental cars: “nothing parties like a rental.”

  8. Brooke says:

    I walked by them this morning on the way home from a friend’s. They’re really pretty!

    Paul, my understanding is that these are rental only, but I could be mistaken. I agree that, being rentals, they’re likely to be abused. My hope is that along with the condition of employment, that they also require routine inspections of the property, and if it looks like they’re being abused, the lease is immediately terminated. If word gets around, then maybe that will cut down on the abuse? Maybe not, but I think it’s worth a try.

    • Emmy says:

      I agree, I hope there are inspections. However, before the renovations I noticed that some of the tenants had put up signs about the poor condition of the housing (essentially badmouthing the HRHAP). They’d be up for a day or two and then gone. So, I would hope that if those same people return to the housing they will be happy with the improvements and take good care of the place.

      I must also say that I’m a renter and I take very good care of my home. It may be a rental, but I still have to live here and I respect my landlord. Not all renters trash the places they live in…including poor renters.

  9. Paul says:

    Thx for the response Brooke

  10. So no one else is going to comment on the expansion of the surveillance infrastructure for our “safety”?

  11. Paul says:

    S’ok with me, ‘rebel’

    • Do you enjoy being monitored by the police? Or can you simply afford the luxury not to live in the ghetto like the rest of us?

      • Really? You live in the ghetto? Which ghetto is that?

        • Our staff includes members of several different socio-economic backgrounds, including the petit-bourgeois, the point is not to win “ghetto cred” but rather illustrate the expanse of police power in predominately working-class residential areas. The real question is: Is Paul in a position where the issue personally effects him?

  12. David Miller says:

    Mr/Mrs. Rocktown Rebel

    You remind me a great deal of the “open-air preachers” on court square. Yelling into the void, hoping to rouse someone to argue against you. Have you considered posting questions and comments without obvious contempt for all who would answer.

  13. RR,

    Is this increase in surveillance infrastructure something tied to the Franklin Heights project, perhaps even at Franklin Heights (which is not too far from where I live, as I believe you know), or are you simply raising the issue in general, completely unrelated to this project?

  14. Emmy says:

    When I passed these houses today I noticed that each one of them had a rain barrel! Not that they’d get much use right now, but I love that they put them in!

    • Thanh says:

      I agree, the rain barrels are pretty cool.

      FYI, they were funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and US EPA.

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