SEVENTY-five years ago, progres- sive-spirited first lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to Youngstown to formally dedicate the Westlake Terrace housing development on the city’s near North Side, one of the first public housing projects in the United States created during the nation’s exciting New Deal era.
Seventy-five years later, that same spirit of progress and excitement will be celebrated when officials gather in the shadow of Westlake to dedicate the $20 million Village at Arlington housing community.
We congratulate Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority Director Carmelita Douglas and others for their diligence in transforming the decaying crammed-in Westlake properties into a beautiful, spacious and green neighborhood that attracts admiring stares by legions of passers-by.
Any why shouldn’t it? In addition to its aesthetic attractiveness, Arlington’s assets abound. The new village lessens urban blight, reinvents the concept of public housing and offers its residents opportunities that stretch far beyond the brick and mortar confines of the development.
The formal dedication this month will mark the end of a 15-year effort to replace the entire 1940-vintage, barracks-style Westlake apartments. The replacement of the first 400 apartments with new housing in the Arlington Heights community was completed in 2008. That new community includes 75 rental apartments, 30 owner-occupied townhouse units, a recreation center and a park.
The newly opened $13.5 million, 120-apartment Village at Arlington replaces the final 218 Westlake apartments. The project was funded partly through an aptly named U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Hope VI grant.
The results of the massive investment bring abundant hope.
First, the Village serves as the picture of urban renaissance. Time and circumstance took their toll on Westlake. Over the decades, the once proud project degenerated into a blighted area rife with housing deterioration, violent crime and the drug trade.
“They used to call it ‘the badlands,’” Alice Freeman said of Westlake, where she lived for 43 years. “I call this the new frontier,” Freeman said of the village, where she now lives and serves as resident council president.
AN AMAZING METAMORPHOSIS
Freeman is absolutely correct. The embarrassingly decrepit Westlake gateway into a revitalized downtown Youngstown and a bustling Youngstown State University campus has undergone an amazing metamorphosis. It’s now a clean, bright community, thereby building pride for residents and the tens of thousands who pass by the neighborhood daily.
The success of the Arlington Heights community also demonstrates that public housing programs in the Mahoning Valley and the nation have come of age. No longer are they sterile apartments with minimal adornments filled exclusively with the poorest of the poor.
Today they comprise a gated community of low- and moderate-income individuals and families. Arlington is a mix of spacious attractively designed apartments and townhouses landscaped with trees, green spaces, computer labs, recreational centers that would enrich any neighborhood, even the most posh of suburbs.
The new environment has bred new-found pride. As a result, crime and drug trade there have dropped dramatically, residents say. Applicants indeed are screened for criminal behavior and drug activity. What’s more the YMHA offers residents a variety of services to help them toward greater self-fulfillment and self-sufficiency.
All in all, we welcome completion of the Village at Arlington as one of the most substantial neighborhood revival projects in the city in decades. We hope it serves as a model for similar developments. Truly, the houses that Hope built on the fringe of downtown Youngstown restore pride and progress to an area far too long disheveled, disparaged, feared and forgotten.