Today’s guest columnist is Dontrelle Young Foster.
A once vibrant community, full of life and promise, now sits quietly in a forgotten area.
Located just a stone’s throw away from Legion Field and steps from A.H. Parker High School is the once bustling neighborhood known as Smithfield.
In the early 1900s, Smithfield was known for being home to prominent Black professionals. In fact, many of the homes were designed by Wallace A. Rayfield, America’s second formally trained Black architect who also designed 16th Street Baptist Church.
But, what happened?
How is it that several other neighborhoods in Birmingham, specifically those surrounding Smithfield and the closer College Hills and Graymont neighborhoods, have undergone a remarkable revitalization over the past decade while this community continues to remain in-need?
Though many feel as though it’s left, the magic first imagined in the early 1900s remains and, after so many decades, I’m proud to be a part of the team helping bring the spark back to Smithfield.
I serve as President and CEO for the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD), and I firmly believe affordable housing plays a pivotal role in Birmingham’s economic development.
At first glance, affordable housing might seem distant from the world of business leadership. However, when people have access to safe, affordable housing, it ignites a chain reaction of positive outcomes.
Smithfield Court, the public housing community central to the Smithfield neighborhood, is our oldest public housing property first built in 1937.
I began working with HABD over 20 years ago, and I’ve seen firsthand the challenges our residents face specifically as communities remain stagnant. As the newly appointed President and CEO just two years ago, I wanted change. HABD needed change, and our residents more than anything deserved change. That’s why our team began diligently working to create the changes needed and, this past summer, the work paid off.
Smithfield to receive largest grant in HABD history
On July 26, 2023, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge traveled to Smithfield Court to announce Birmingham as a $50M Choice Neighborhoods Implementation (CNI) grant recipient.
That meant a neighborhood overlooked for 50+ years would now have $50M+ to bring back its magic. Not only was the $50M CNI grant the first of its type in the state of Alabama, but it is also the largest award in the history of HABD.
In fact, our team previously applied for this grant three times, but Birmingham had never before received a portion of the over $20B in Choice Neighborhoods grants.
The Choice Neighborhoods program was designed to address struggling neighborhoods with distressed public or HUD-assisted housing, offering those communities access to the necessary resources for comprehensive transformation.
We knew we couldn’t transform this neighborhood alone. That’s why we were proud to have the COB onboard as co-applicant. Still, HABD and COB weren’t enough.
We also secured more than 60 local partner organizations who supported the effort like UAB, Birmingham City Schools, United Way of Central Alabama, The Ascent Project, and a minority-owned developer, Integral-Rule, to leverage the grant into an investment of more than $242M for not only Smithfield, but for Birmingham’s College Hills and Graymont neighborhoods as well.
Smithfield to be transformed
Over the next 8-9 years, HABD, COB, and the many partners described before will redevelop and modernize one of the country’s oldest public housing communities, Smithfield Court, and develop at least 186 new market-rate homes, an expanded library system and social services landscape, enhanced transportation, and the potential to anchor new retail and commercial developments.
This isn’t just a win for HABD, it’s a win for the entire city and every Birmingham resident. CNI grants are driving economic growth across the country.
A recent study on the Chicago Choice Neighborhood initiative showed that HUD’s investment of $30M generated $400M in public and private resources.
The study also revealed an increase in median household incomes, a steady decline in crime rates, and an uptick in homeownership rates. Can you imagine the possibilities? For redevelopment to expand to all four corners of the city, and growth to fully encompass a region that is already on the verge of unprecedented progress.
Our moment has arrived, and the magic is being revived!
These communities will experience rebirth not because of luck but because of collaboration, partnership, and perseverance. Simply put, togetherness. Together, we are investing and rebuilding a better Birmingham for generations to come.
Dontrelle Young Foster is President and CEO of the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District (HABD). Foster holds an MBA and is a 2023 Troy University MPA candidate. In addition to leading the 17th largest housing authority in the nation, she is a proud wife and mom of two and has been nominated for a number of accolades, including the Birmingham Business Journal’s People to Watch, Who’s Who in Commercial Real Estate, and CEO of the Year.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. email@example.com