A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKY NAACP holds meeting to discuss Newport’s Victoria Square apartment housing crisis

By Alexia Dolan
NKyTribune intern

The Northern Kentucky National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held a meeting at the Second Baptist Church on Brighton Street this week to discuss concerns and resources for Newport Victoria Square residents displaced by new development.

Some of the residents were recently given a 30-day extension after being notified by private developer, Sunset Property Solutions, that they are required to vacate their homes by the end of September. Hundreds of tenants will need new homes.

After current residents vacate, SPS will start a two-part construction phase to build a luxury apartment complex.

The apartments are located on Central Avenue in Newport within easy walking distance from Newport on the Levee and the Purple People Bridge and is on a bus line.

NAACP President Jerome Bowles says the NAACP wants to help better prepare the community for this transition.

“This underserved community doesn’t have equal weight to other groups the city is attracted to.”

Newport City Commissioner Ken Rechtin attended his second meeting regarding this issue and says pushing out current residents is not Newport’s intent, but the city has little leeway with private developers.

“I thought neighborhood foundations like the Brighton Center provided supportive and adequate services, but the meetings I’ve attended exposed equality issues within the housing system,” Rechtin said. “We can utilize our resources by engaging as a community with developers and agencies to ensure a better system in the future that addresses the immediate needs.”

Rechtin spoke about the advantages of the industrial revenue bond (IRB) that allows private developers to lend ownership of the asset to the city in order to avoid paying taxes for the lending period. The developers pay the payment in lieu of tax, more commonly known as the pilot payment, which is a smaller percentage than what the asset costs originally, resulting in the developer further profiting off of the property.

“In some ways, it is an advantage to the school system because it is a taxing authority in the city and we maxed out on the amount of increase allotted per year,” Rechtin said.

Along with the NAACP, there were seven other non-profits in attendance, focused on assisting the Victoria Square residents as they search for new housing before the end of the year.

St. Vincent de Paul, Brighton Center, Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, NKY’s Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, and Newport School District attended to educate residents on the resources their organizations provide.

Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul, Karen Zengel said the organization is focused on being a resource for Victoria Square residents’ financial and basic need assistance. SVDP’s helpline (859) 341-3219, can be reached daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Talia Frey, vice president of Brighton Center, also attended the meeting to educate residents on what the center has to offer them during their time of urgent need. The Brighton Center phone number is (859) 491-8303 and the Victoria Square extension is 2409.

“As Karen said, this is a community effort, so when we found out about the notices to vacate, we set up a phone line dedicated to the Victoria Square residents,” Frey said. “Our staff runs the line Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and we’ve assisted 67 residents so far.”

Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, led by Catrena Bowman-Thomas, supported residents by answering questions about how they can better achieve self-resilience during this difficult time. With multiple different housing opportunities around the greater Cincinnati area, Bowman-Thomas encouraged those in need to reach out for tangible resources and apply for housing waitlists.

The NKY Legal Aid of the Bluegrass is also offering services five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. by calling their phone number at (859) 431-8200, or by visiting their office in Covington.

“You may have a better chance at legal defense if you’re in the first year of your original lease,” said Karen Ginn, executive advocacy director of NKY Legal Aid of the Bluegrass.

Amy Webb and United Way of Greater Cincinnati provided a helpline for those who are in need of household items, housing, utilities, employment. and mental and physical health services. Open 24 hours a day seven days a week, the 211 hotline serves Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant County.

Ramona Malone, chair of Newport’s Board of Education, wants residents to educate themselves on local politics through the website, votesmart.org, which allows users to view local and national politicians voting history, in order to best determine who to cast their vote to in the upcoming August election.

“It is time that we become educated voters because politicians get a voter list and they look at your address and voting history,” Malone said. “If they look at a community where there’s not a lot of turnout in voting, they go over to the community where the voters are voting.”

Michelle Green, Victoria Square resident and mother of two, worries about where her daughter will attend her senior year of high school.

“I’m not on section eight and I don’t get food stamps, but I am one of those people who make $20 an hour and I have called every place that the Brighton Center and school district provided,” Green said. “I will be okay with my little bit of savings, but I’m at this meeting for our elderly and children who need us more than ever.”

Green had never seen this much hurt within a community. After false rumors run rampant about the environment around Victoria Square, Green describes the way she and her loved ones know the city of Newport.

“I’ve heard people tell tourists that this area is full of drugs and violence, but that’s just not the case,” Green said. “We sit with our elderly neighbors and take care of each other, but now I’m worried about what’s going to happen to the woman across the hall who asks me to help her carry laundry and groceries.”

Although it is clear there is much work to be done, residents appreciate the work the city and the non-profits do.

Donna Watts, a Newport resident, spoke out in the meeting to encourage others to vote as well as commend certain community members who have taken an interest in this issue.

The community banded together and with the help of resident Kyle Randall. The social media platform he created has almost 120 members.

“The Victoria Square Residents Facebook group provides support for those who are going through a tough time, but also a way to strategize how to apply more pressure to the situation,” Randall said. “There’s an event coming up Saturday at Bernadette Watkins Park that is tenant-focused, but I’m hoping that people will stay engaged.”

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. July 30 at the Bernadette Watkins Park and the contact email for more information is cincyhousingjustice@gmail.com.

“I’m so overwhelmed by the resources being offered, that I don’t know how to utilize those resources,” said resident Mariah Norris. “How do we utilize cleaning supplies that won’t be necessary until after we move, if we haven’t found a place to move to yet?”

Currently paying $710 monthly, Norris is concerned about searching for a new affordable apartment.

Norris appreciates the organizations who are trying their best to give the community resources, but says the first priority of the city and the agencies should be finding housing for residents who are being displaced.

“This was expected to happen, as the riverfront is a prime location, as well as the Ovation project and that’s why everyone is jacking up their prices because they know they can get more money out of people,” Norris said. “It’s those who come from outside of the community that are drawing in others, instead of investing in the people that are already in this community.”

For those in a similar position, Jonika Greene, Brighton Center’s director of housing and financial services, said the best course of action is to fill out the need form, reach out to the Section Eight office and inform them about the crisis. As a certified housing counselor, Green and her team assess housing affordability, for both renters and homeowners.

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