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KCDC gets $40 million grant to help pay for Western Heights development plan, build more affordable housing

Knoxville's Community Development Corporation said its Transforming Western Heights plan costs around $220 million and will result in more affordable housing.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Starting next month, Knoxville's Community Development Corporation said it plans to start construction on a large plan to redevelop most of Western Heights.

The community is currently made up of several low-income housing units, with several units in need of repairs. In December 2021, the final plans for Transforming Western were approved. The plans call for building new playgrounds, an overlook plaza, a restaurant, an entrepreneurship center and art spaces.

After up to six years, officials behind the plans said Western Heights will have around 740 low-and-mixed-income housing units.

"We're going to improve the quality of the existing affordable housing on-site, and we're going to greatly expand the number of units that are there too," said Ben Bentley, the executive director of KCDC. "This is a huge deal. We started the planning process for Western Heights about 18 months ago now."

Recently, it received a $40 million grant to help cover the costs of the project. Transforming Western will cost around $220 million in total, and Knoxville leaders already pledged $26.5 million to help cover it. Officials also said they were seeking an additional $18 million in "philanthropic funding" for the project, according to its Executive Summary.

On a recent Friday, KCDC accepted the $40 million at a celebration. There was a big turnout, and people are excited about what is coming to the community. 

"This good news from HUD is going to allow us to leverage a total of $220 million to invest back into the people, housing, and community here at Western Heights," said Bentley. 

Community advocates like Knoxville-native Vivian Shipe say this project is long overdue. The Western Heights community was established in 1939 and is KCDC's largest affordable housing development.

"It is time for some new sidewalks, siding, and appliances on the inside, some livability. Let's bring it up to 2022," said Shipe.

KCDC said it spent around 15 months planning with residents and other stakeholders in the area before revealing the plans to the community for a final look in January. The plan includes different types of buildings that serve the needs of different families. There will also be on-site management, according to the Executive Summary of the plans.

"There will be minimum, if any, off-site relocation. We want people to be able to maintain the social network they exist in, the school their kids go to," Bentley said. "When we look back ten years from now at the investment that's being made now, we will see the positivity from this project in terms of actual outcomes from the residents that live in the neighborhood."

The plan includes four phases of construction, meant to minimize disruption for current residents. It said extremely low-income units will be replaced one-for-one of the existing 1953 units. Each phase in the plan will involve around 120 units.

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