Photo | Lagniappe
For years, city officials and the Mobile Housing Board’s (MHB) Board of Commissioners discussed the potential of demolishing the long-abandoned Josephine Allen Homes in the Plateau community, and on Tuesday, Jan. 14, the proposed action was given a definite timeline.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson joined members of the Mobile City Council and MHB to announce roughly half of the 292 dilapidated units at the complex would be coming down by March 1 in what will be the first part of a two-phase process. The remaining units contained within 36 buildings associated with the former public housing complex are slated to be razed by June 1, Stimpson said in a press conference.
“Today is a very happy day simply because what has been a blighted area of our city will be razed and torn down,” Stimpson said.
The demolition of the first phase will cost around $475,000 and be conducted by two different contractors, Stimpson said. The work will be split into 12 different contracts, with Hughes Plumbing taking on nine and Triple A taking on three. Bids will be taken on phase two in April.
“It’ll be taken to the ground level, leveled and seeded to help grow grass,” Stimpson said. “The future of the site is up to the Mobile Housing Board.”
Stimpson credited a 2018 agreement between the city and MHB with moving the demolition discussion further along.
Council President Levon Manzie said the vast majority, or about “90 percent,” of the questions he receives when conducting community meetings in the Happy Hills area is related to the abandoned housing complex.
“I’m as pleased to be here today as I can be,” Manzie said. “It certainly is a happy day in Happy Hills.”
The councilman, who is in his second term representing citizens in the area, thanked city staff and MHB for bringing the demolition to fruition.
“No citizen in our community should’ve had to live with this day in and day out,” he said. “I’m proud we’re finally able to, working together, do something about it.”
Anderson Flen, who owns property in the adjacent neighborhood, said it was “disheartening” to watch the once grand housing complex become the poster child for the city’s blight, with open windows and doors on almost every apartment. Its once proud streets and sidewalks are now littered with old laundry baskets and used tires.
“I remember when it was built,” Flen said. “I had a lot of friends and neighbors who lived there during its heyday,”
While officials are celebrating the coming demolition, Flen, who travels between his home in Atlanta and his property in Mobile, said he’s concerned with the processes the city has taken to this point, which has led to the complex being abandoned for nearly a decade. This inactivity has Flen anxious but hopeful the neighbors will have a say in what happens in Happy Hills.
“I’m hoping the council, the city and the Mobile Housing Board will become partners with the residents, rather than adversaries.” he said. “My hope is they will do the right thing, but Mobile doesn’t have a history of doing the right thing for people of color.”
The proposed demolition has advocates for Africatown excited for a possible partnership with an international design competition. Community advocate Joe Womack asked about the collaboration during a press conference announcing the demolition.
The competition would act as a “cultural master plan” for various aspects of the community, a 2019 statement from Making Opportunities Viable for Everyone (MOVE) stated. MOVE President and CEO Vicki Howell said in the statement one of the competition’s challenges would be to design a boathouse for the recently found Clotilda shipwreck. The competition would also include 16 venues on four different sites, Howell wrote.
No decisions have been made as to the future of the property, MHB Executive Director Michael Pierce said.
This announcement comes only weeks after MHB commissioners voted to apply through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to tear down several housing projects on the city’s south side as well. If approved by the federal agency, residents of R.V. Taylor Homes, Thomas James Place and Boykin Tower would all have to be relocated, either through the Housing Choice Voucher program, better known as Section 8, or to one of the city’s remaining public housing units.
Due to concerns over the availability of affordable housing in the city, the council has set up a commission to study the issue. Councilors will appoint residents to the commission, which will report its findings back to elected officials. Both Pierce and Community Development Director James Roberts will sit on the commission as non-voting members.
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