The Mobile Housing Board, the city and three private firms aim to team up for a $750 million redevelopment project that will span three public housing communities, after the MHB voted last week to select the private partners and move the project forward to a master planning phase.

The board selected Hollyhand Development, Columbia Residential and Pennrose Properties Global Development Group to redevelop the 330 acres where R.V. Taylor Plaza, Thomas James Place and the Frank W. Boykin tower currently sit.

The redevelopment will be a mixed-use, mixed-income community consisting of 3,000 to 4,000 housing units and commercial retail facilities, program manager James Brooks, president of the Boulevard Group, said. Brooks said it would take three to six months to develop a master plan for the property and developers would be responsible for securing most of the financing needed for the project, which is expected to be constructed in phases over several years.

The project would be the largest public housing redevelopment ever in the city and is considered significant on a national scale, Brooks told board members. The developers will model Mobile’s project after similar public housing communities in New Orleans, Tuscaloosa and New Brunswick, N.J.

Even though the Housing Board agreed to move on the plan, there was some dissention. Board member Norman Hill said it was unrealistic to think Mobile would be able to afford a development like the one he and other board members visited in New Orleans, where a major redevelopment was partially funded by relief money after Hurricane Katrina. But Chairman Clarence Ball said calling the project unrealistic would not help it move forward.

Hill said he was also confused about why there needed to be three development firms for one project. Brooks told board members similar things are done all over the country.

MHB Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn said it was too early to determine how much of the funding the board would be responsible for. The board will have to pay relocation costs to residents of the communities affected by the project. He said those residents would be notified within 90 days of the move. Those notifications haven’t gone out yet, he said. There are currently 960 family households in the three communities, Vaughn said.

“The number of residents at the communities who will be affected by the redevelopment will change over the coming months as new residents come to the community and other residents leave the community for home ownership, rental in other apartments,” he said.

Mobile’s Director of Community Planning and Development Nigel Roberts said the city would be responsible for some portion of the project. The development would need planning approval and some infrastructure enhancements, Roberts said. He added that the project would help run down areas and reduce outdated housing stock.

“We support the need for the change,” he said. “This will help with the elimination of slum areas and blight.”
The residents forced to move will have an opportunity to move back after the work is completed, Brooks said. Vaughn said in other places around the country, these mixed-income communities reserve about a third of the housing units for low-income residents. The existing low-income communities targeted by the redevelopment, currently consist of 1,300 units.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will make a determination on the redevelopment plan’s approval, HUD spokeswoman Gloria Shanahan confirmed in an email, but because the planning process has just begun, HUD oversight is not necessary at this point.

“The Mobile Housing Board will be required to provide a detailed development plan and financing strategy before work is to commence on the three communities,” Shanahan wrote. “This includes a relocation plan for the residents.”

Vaughan said the plan would be presented to HUD for approval once the plan is “fully developed, goes through a comment stage by various stakeholders and comes to a more final form.”

“Some type of HUD approval will be necessary,” Vaughan said.

Shanahan wrote that mixed-use, mixed-income projects are typically good models “for leveraging federal funds that are limited for properties with extensive capital needs … This can supplement HUD funding and makes a better set of options for housing authorities in their development plans.”

Low occupancy rates have affected MHB’s funding from HUD. As of September, MHB had an occupancy rate of 67 percent. The rate, which Shanahan previously described as “historically low,” stems in part from the vacant community at Josephine Allen Homes north of downtown. MHB moved residents out of Josephine Allen before gaining HUD approval for a renovation project there, but the authority is currently seeking to have those homes demolished.

Vaughan said an April story announcing $439,000 in redevelopment costs, referenced what it would take to renovate all 13 MHB communities. He added that the public housing portion of the project would total between $198 million to $251 million and the rest would be the mixed-use, mixed income portion, which includes the “market and workforce housing components, commercial retail, infrastructure, mixed-use space, recreational space, site preparation, etc.”  

Mobile Development Enterprises, a non-profit organization associated with MHB, will be involved in the project. Vaughn said it is anticipated MDE will provide “some logistical and strategic support for resident interaction and community engagement.”
Vaughn added that the role of MDE has not been fully defined.

MHB has some of the oldest housing stock in the nation. Brought into service in January 1943, Thomas James Place is one of four MHB housing developments that have been in use for more than 70 years. Homes in Thomas James were originally constructed to provide temporary housing for military personnel stationed at Brookley Field during World War II.

Boykin Tower was opened in September 1983 to serve senior citizens exclusively, and R.V. Taylor opened in November 1967 as a multi-family affordable housing development.