News Column

City to buy, raze crime-plagued Phoenix apartments, clear way for new mixed-income residences

June 29, 2014

By John Tuohy, The Indianapolis Star



June 29--A deal is in the works to demolish the former Phoenix apartments, the chipped and charred high-crime public housing complex that has long frustrated neighborhood residents and city officials.

The city has secured a $12.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to buy the property from the owner, Michael Belfonti of Connecticut.

The loan would be transferred to the nonprofit Meadows Community Foundation, which would raze the Phoenix and manage a new $40 million to $50 million mixed-income complex near 38th Street and Keystone Avenue.

The redevelopment would be the next-to-final piece of a revitalization puzzle in the Meadows-Avondale neighborhood. In the past decade, two charter schools -- Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School and Challenge Foundation Academy -- have opened south of the Phoenix, as well as a YMCA, a health center and a mixed-income, 248-unit apartment complex, the East Village at Avondale Meadows.

John Neighbours, chairman of the Meadows Community Foundation, said all the residents "in good standing" would have first crack at renting the apartments in the new building, and none of them would be displaced.

"We will be managing it correctly," he said, adding that the goal will be "to drive away the criminal element that has plagued it for years."

Amandula Anderson, executive director of the United Northeast Community Development Corp., said rebuilding the Phoenix should encourage businesses to set up along 38th street, including a grocery store.

"This is one of the worst food deserts in the city," she said, noting that the closest food store is an Aldi at 52nd Street and Keystone Avenue, about 1 1/2 miles away. "But the big chains tell us they won't come here because of the Phoenix."

Such is the notoriety of the Phoenix, that not even construction of the fully occupied East Village could persuade businesses to come, Neighbours said.

The complex was put in the national spotlight in 2007 after 3-year-old TaJanay Bailey was beaten to death by her mother's live-in boyfriend, Lawrence L. Green.

Green was sentenced to 65 years in prison, and the toddler's mother, Charity Bailey, was sentenced to 35 years.

After it was revealed that the state Department of Child Services had sent TaJanay from foster care back home a month before her killing, then-U.S. senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh called for an investigation, and former prosecutor Carl Brizzi described the conditions there "unlivable" after a visit.

For years, the complex and surrounding area had one of the highest crime rates in the city. Neighbours said 74 percent of the households are headed by single mothers, and the majority of the crime is committed by boyfriends and husbands who don't live there.

Most of the units in the Phoenix are subsidized by HUD. The agency would still subsidize some apartments in the new building, but some would be rented at market value.

The city would use future Community Development Block Grants as collateral for the loan to purchase the Phoenix, but the community foundation would have to repay it, said Adam Theis, Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development director. The Lilly Foundation would contribute $1.3 million to the purchase.

The Metropolitan Development Commission will vote on the city's loan application at a meeting Wednesday.

Call Star reporter John Tuohy at (317) 444-6418. Follow him on Twitter: @john_tuohy.

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(c)2014 The Indianapolis Star

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Source: Indianapolis Star (IN)


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