Louisville Magazine

AUG 2013

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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ins. Pocketed deterioration, with tidy homes sandwiched in between. But the damage is noticeable, distracting. "Where's your value here?" Houston asks rhetorically. "You have no value." She's saddened every time she drives through, especially because she sees strong value in west Louisville. Neighborhoods like Chickasaw and Shawnee boast elegant Cape Cods and majestic green tree canopies. (According to a Courier-Journal article, 2013 PVA assessments rose by 10 percent to 31 percent in Limerick, a neighborhood just west of Old Louisville, and in Chickasaw.) "Stunning, stunning!" she exclaims several times as we drive down Southwestern Parkway. Yet she frequently hears four words from house-hunting clients: "I don't want west." For most people a home stands as their greatest asset. Tey want to fnd one that continues in predominantly AfricanAmerican communities. "You can't talk about this without talking about race," says Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Commission. "Because this doesn't happen in comparable white areas." Hinko and Jane Walsh, with the Network Center for Community Change, are among a core group of housing advocates who've presented the Fischer administration with ideas they say could stem foreclosures and chip away at the roughly 8,000 vacant properties (as determined by inactive water service for three months) clustered primarily in west and southwest Louisville. One proposal involves changing the way the city handles delinquent property tax bills. Right now, third-party investors buy up those bills, charge hefty fees and move to collect. If a homeowner can't pay, the they're temporary, and because people with resources are going to leave west Louisville because their houses are worth $30,000." She'd love to see priorities shufed, with the same vigor spent on securing fnancing for downtown projects shifted west. It's not that government isn't targeting money towards housing construction and rehab in west Louisville. Every year a couple million dollars in federal and local funds facilitate home construction and rehab, as well as weatherization and emergency repair programs. Right now, the city is focusing largely on Shawnee and Portland. A s Houston heads east from Chickasaw, a light drizzle falls. Te realtor didn't grow up in west Louisville. But she often visited her grandparents, who lived near 22nd and Garland. She talks about watching the area Some feel the reaction to the problem lacks urgency. Deterioration continues in predominantly African-American communities. "You can't talk about this without talking about race," says Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Commission. "Because this doesn't happen in comparable white areas." will age well, increase in value. Persistent low appraisals add to the perception that west Louisville should be avoided. And because federal regulations dictate the appraisal process, city government can't just rewrite the rules. But Houston, who holds a master's degree in interdisciplinary social sciences but prefers to call it a degree in the "human condition," believes the city can help alleviate symptoms. More demolition might help, she says: "I think people would like to look out the door and see green space rather than boarded-up." Tis past fscal year Louisville Metro demolished 98 troublesome properties, 30 more than the previous year. Houston compliments Mayor Greg Fischer's team for recognizing the issue. His administration organized a Vacant and Abandoned Properties initiative. Tis past year the city chose 108 vacant properties to foreclose on (though there's been no sale because the process takes about two years). Still, some feel the reaction to the problem lacks urgency. Deterioration 38 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.13 investors can initiate foreclosure. Walsh would love to see changes in state law so that the city could foat a bond, buy up the overdue tax liens, efciently foreclose, keep the money from the property sale, helping to pay back the bond, and hopefully, get the land back to productive use. Te model's seen success in Michigan. "We've gotten pats on the head, like, those are 'nice ideas,'" says Walsh. Te problem? Metro government's tight budget and maxed-out bonding capacity. Walsh, a fourth-generation Louisvillian, is frustrated that for years the city's chosen to invest in massive projects like the KFC Yum! Center rather than struggling neighborhoods. "I really don't understand how anyone can look at the history of our city and other cities and say what really invigorates poor neighborhoods is spending money on arenas and bridges," she says, then pauses. "Look at all the jobs that are coming in. Tose jobs are not going to help the housing values in west Louisville because change. "Te turnover," she calls it: older generations disappearing and job loss. We pass the site of the old Philip Morris tobacco plant at 18th and Broadway. Over the last 20 years, Brown-Forman aside, many employers have left this area. "With a loss of employment, there's a loss in housing. It causes abandonment," Houston says. "With jobs, (people) have money in their pockets. Money to fx up their homes." Census data shows the median household income for west Louisville sits $24,000 less than Jeferson County's median income. As we turn into a parking lot and prepare to part ways, Houston apologizes for getting of the topic we started with — low appraisals. She briefy lifts her hands of the steering wheel, slightly fustered. "It's really so much," she says. "It ain't just one thing." Te smile hasn't left her face. But concern tugs at the corners. "How do you get people to care?" she asks.

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