By Ernie Brown
The Kimmel Brooks Housing Project.
That name was both a badge of honor for its inhabitants, and also a chilling one for the Youngstown Police Department.
The Brooks, as it was fondly called, has had an interesting history, beginning with the controversy of obtaining a zoning change to get the 300-unit housing project built in the 1950s.
Council approved the zone change; some East Side residents opposed the housing project; black ministers spoke for it; and the matter eventually ended up in court, with the court ruling the zone change on Victor Avenue needed for the project could go forward.
That ruling, however, was appealed, and the zone-change issue eventually was put on the ballot. The Vindicator took this position: “Want a $3.5 million gift for the city? Vote “No” on the Kimmel issue.” A no vote would allow the housing project to go forward.
The effort to halt the project failed at the ballot box, and in November 1954, ground was broken for the low-income housing. According to Vindicator files, the first family moved into the first unit in September 1956.
The Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority, the agency overseeing the housing project, got money in 1969 to make improvements, and in 1983, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated a $2.5 million grant for other renovations.
The Brooks, or Dodge City as I heard some veteran police officers call it, also evolved into a cops’ headache.
Police did not want to be called to the project’s three main streets — Victor Avenue, Wright Drive or Bettman Street. The housing development became a haven for illegal drug activity, and many young people lost their lives through gunplay.
A Vindicator story in 1988 carried this somber headline “Killing no stranger in the projects.” City council that year approved $40,000 to pay overtime for off-duty officers to patrol the Brooks and Westlake Terrace Apartments on the North Side in an effort to reduce the violence.
But not everyone who lived in the Brooks turned out to be criminals. Several people left the housing project to lead successful lives.
Some became doctors, lawyers and police officers. Others went on to earn doctorates, and others simply made it out to raise families in other parts of the city and the country.
It is those people the Rev. Willie Peterson is trying to attract for a reunion of sorts at the Kimmel Brooks, now called Rockford Village.
Beginning in 1997, the YMHA secured funding to completely demolish and renovate the housing project. In 2000, the initial phase was completed, and in August 2002, the housing authority completed transforming the single-family apartments of the 1950s and 1960s into the townhouses of Rockford Village. The cost: $13.6 million.
The Rev. Mr. Peterson, a 1970 East High School graduate, is the founder, chief executive officer and driving force behind the Center for Community Empowerment at Rockford Village.
The center, at 1420 Dogwood Lane, is a faith-based social service agency that works to meet the needs of residents in the Rockford area. The center is celebrating its 10th anniversary and the reunion of those who lived in the Kimmel Brook.
The three-day event begins July 31 and ends Aug. 2 at the center. Mr. Peterson is looking for the names of folks who grew up in the Brooks who have become successful in their careers, with one selected as a keynote speaker at a dinner/dance set for Aug. 1. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be a community day of food and fellowship and the beginning of a 3-on-3 basketball tournament July 31. The basketball tournament finals and the dinner/dance will be Aug. 1; and the event concludes with an outdoor worship celebration at 11 a.m. Aug. 2. Tickets are available by calling the Center for Community Empowerment at (330) 740-1982.