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A check, mockery and fears of gentrification

Members of the Louisville Realtors Association this week presented a giant check for $20,000 to the West End Opportunity Partnership amid mockery from West End residents and activists who believe the district’s increased funding tax will hurt, not help, residents.

As the members smiled for a photo, about three dozen protesters chanted “Shame,” before the guests quickly retired.

The contentious moment was one of the few at Monday’s meeting, which featured much of the board members overseeing the district’s Tax Increase Funding, or TIF, which aims to spur development by reinvesting local tax revenues in West End neighborhoods.

The tension highlighted an ongoing disconnect between TIF funders and some locals.

Yolanda Walker, a 33-year-old resident of the California neighborhood, spoke ahead of the meeting at a rally hosted by the Historically Black Neighborhood Assembly.

“We are here to stop it,” she said. “We are not here to try to improve it, to put holes in it or a band-aid on it. It is to die. »

Protesters carrying ‘Stop the TIF’ signs were first told by a man providing security for the meeting that they could not enter due to COVID restrictions, although within minutes they were cleared to participate in the public meeting.

According to the assembly’s website, nearly 480 “residents and allies” have signed the petition against the tax district.

Development issues:‘Reverse white flight’: Some fear West End TIF development plan could evict residents

A bipartisan group of state legislators created the West End TIF in the 2021 legislative session. Out of this legislation emerged the West End Opportunity Partnership, a 21-seat council that oversees the TIF district.

Over the next 20 years, 80% of new tax revenue generated above a 2021 benchmark will be available to the council for reinvestment in the community.

This could take many forms, such as business loans, financing for affordable rental housing, and home improvements for current homeowners.

The effort, which has raised $6.1 million so far, can receive $10 million in seed money from the state if it can match it with $10 million in fundraising private. The Louisville Metro Council has already earmarked an additional $10 million for this effort.

Displacement concerns

The TIF area has raised concerns about the gentrification of West End neighborhoods.

Some residents worry that the increased development west of Ninth Street will primarily benefit developers and businesses, and that as property values ​​rise, rents will rise and displace low-income residents.

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, one of the sponsors of the TIF bill, said “there are a lot of pitfalls” as the council fleshes out district specifics, adding that “it’s not a panacea” to a myriad of challenges in black dominance. , chronically disinvested West End.

“But we do know that this entity, you, has the potential to be big players in the mix of things,” he said during the meeting at the West Broadway YMCA.

As for the displacement of residents, he said, “gentrification dynamics are in full swing right now, from my perspective.”

Protesters attend a West End Opportunity Partnership Board meeting at the West Louisville YMCA in Louisville, Ky. on April 25, 2022. They oppose the West End Tax Increase Funding (TIF) district which they say will make their residences too expensive for the existing community.

Nine council seats are reserved for members from West End wards: Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park Duvalle, Park Hill (still vacant), Parkland, Portland, Russell and Shawnee.

The seat vacated when Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds, representing the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, left office in October 2021 remains vacant.

Gaberiel Jones Jr., an academic representing Russell, talked about long-term tenants on his block.

“When I’m in this space, my main concern is how do I keep my neighbors there?” he asked Neal, who noted that state law prevented the Louisville Metro Council from controlling local rents.

“This entity can’t do anything about it,” he said. “He wasn’t designed to do that.”

7 questions answered:Learn more about the West End TIF project

The TIF Act aims to protect homeowners from rising property taxes by making owners and heirs eligible for a refundable tax credit for increases above their 2021 assessed level, although this protection only applies during the 20-year TIF period.

Renters, on the other hand, are not protected by tax district law. About 60% of people living in West Louisville are renters, according to 2017 data from the University of Louisville.

Tony Curtis, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said there was a need for anti-displacement strategies to protect residents, programs that create pathways to homeownership and an enforceable mechanism to ensure that TIF dollars support affordable, accessible and equitable housing.

“If it’s done right, and it’s done with the best interests of protecting residents at heart, that will be great,” Curtis said. “If not, it’s just another TIF experience.”

His presentation, highlighting the disparities between the West End and the rest of Louisville, from life expectancy to home ownership, drew cheers from protesters.

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Nearly 40% of TIF District residents live below the federal poverty level, according to the TIF Act.

Curtis noted that the median household income in the TIF district is between $23,000 and $25,000 (compared to Louisville’s $50,000) and the median home value is $60,000 to $70,000. $ (compared to the Louisville median of $174,400).

Some of the protesters also expressed frustration at not knowing who their community representative is. On the council’s website, there is no apparent list of those representatives, who joined the council in March.

Shawnte West speaks at a West End Opportunity Partnership Board meeting at the West Louisville YMCA in Louisville, Kentucky on April 25, 2022. Some oppose the West End Tax Increase Funding (TIF) district which, they say will cost current residents, especially renters, out of their homes.

In a brief section of community feedback at the end of the meeting, limited to five people at three minutes each, Shawnte West, who works and volunteers in the West End, called on the council to look into communities across the West End resources and talents as you go. their work, including the future hiring of a public accountant to obtain non-profit status.

“When you talk about offers, can we look at these nine neighborhoods first?” West says. “Part of why we’re here is to engage the community, and you have experts in the community that we’re not looking for.”

Walker, who led the protest ahead of the meeting, also spoke out, saying she applied to be a representative for the California ward but backed out.

“I don’t want it in my conscience and I don’t want it in my heart that I moved communities,” she told the board.

Related:Urban League leaders who quit West End TIF board push for transparency

Mike Neagle, the Portland representative, said after the meeting that he thinks the TIF district “can be used for good,” especially with community input, although he knows that’s not guaranteed.

“I don’t even know, on the board, can we control this?” he said. “Are we playing with fire?

He said he loves the tight-knit vibe of Portland, where he’s raising his family and running a tech company, and he doesn’t want that aspect of his neighborhood to change.

“I don’t want avocado toast or anything fancy, and most people there are pretty much the same way,” he said.

But he joined the board, he said, to spur improvements that must be “equitable for everyone”.

Neighborhoods supported by the West End Opportunity Partnership, which will ensure local tax money is channeled to West End neighborhoods for development opportunities.

Tammy Hawkins, District 1 Democratic candidate for the Metro Council and representative for the Parkland borough, said that as she campaigned and knocked on doors, the main concern she heard from residents about TIF is fear. of displacement.

“I don’t think TIF is a bad thing,” she told the Courier Journal. “I feel like it could be done for good, as long as people vote for the right things, as long as it’s designed so the community doesn’t lose their home.”

However, she wanted to clarify that her membership on the board does not mean that she agrees with everything that is discussed.

“I sympathize with them. I am one of them,” she said of those protesting against TIF. “I have just been chosen to serve on this council. problems than them. If gentrification happens, it happens to me too.

Journalist Matthew Glowicki can be reached at [email protected], 502-582-4000 or on Twitter @mattglo.