December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Housing Authority considers rebuilding Wilkes Villa

ELYRIA — A more livable, vibrant, green community is being planned for the Wilkes Villa housing complex of the Lorain County Metropolitan Housing Authority.

An artist's rendering shows what changes may be in store for Wilkes Villa.

An artist’s rendering shows what changes may be in store for Wilkes Villa.

Built in the early 1970s, Wilkes Villa has undergone some renovation and major maintenance projects over the decades but never before has a plan to replace every building been created. But a fire that resulted in the loss of one of the development’s buildings changed that idea for the board, said Executive Director Homer Virden.

“When we lost Building 11 to fire in 2011, it came about at a time when we were also discussing plans to for a new management facility and child care facility and were in talks with Lorain County Health & Dentistry over the placement of a medical facility on the grounds,” Virden said. “The board immediately knew to do the project right it would be best to think in terms of the entire complex and how development would be shaped for the future.”

A master plan, dubbed LMHA 2020, was developed as a result with input from residents, neighbors, churches, social service agencies and city officials. The first phase has a price tag of roughly $1.5 million to $2 million. A budget for the full master plan has yet to be created.

And while Virden says the agency does not have the funding to replace all of the buildings as it called for in the plan, it does know where the future of the complex eventually will go when the funding can be secured.

“We will start with these three buildings, with Building 11 being the prototype housing structure we will eventual move toward. In terms of look, it will be very different from the traditional row house design that is Wilkes Villa now,” he said. “We are looking at a townhouse-style building with porches and that are closer to the street.”

The homes will be built similar to the Heritage View Homes in the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority portfolio. The colorful homes feature green space, private entrances and individual parking.

Board Chairwoman Evelyn France said the redevelopment of Wilkes Villa always has been a pressing concern of the LMHA board. A board member since 2000, her first association with LMHA was going to Wilkes Villa to do credit enhancement classes with the residents when she was an employee of FirstMerit Bank.

“There has always been this commitment to do a total revitalization of Wilkes Villa,” France said. “It has been labeled as something bad in the community, but the residents there have the same desire to have clean, happy and safe homes for their families as everyone else in Elyria.”

France said over the last 10 to 15 years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has started programming geared at making public housing residents more self-sufficient and moving away from the concept of centralized poverty locations — complexes that scream poverty as France put it.

“Everything has been geared toward making Wilkes Villa a stepping stone, but we want to give them something to be proud of while they are there,” she said. “This revitalization will be the rebirth of a community and a showplace for the city.”

Virden said the hope is to start construction later this year on the housing unit, likely to be an eight-unit building with between 24 and 32 bedrooms depending on the configuration of three- and four-bedroom units. The units will bring a different sense of community to the development. Families will move into the units based on the same criteria and screening process already in place.

Construction shouldn’t cause the displacement of any other tenants.

Wilkes Villa opened in 1972 and was named after a bishop of a local church. Many of the streets in the development are named after families from the community.

Virden said every attempt will be made to keep that historical connection to the community in the naming of buildings and streets.

If you go

The Wilkes Villa Master Plan will be introduced to the community 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Boys & Girls Club, 1821 Middle Ave., Elyria.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.