Beverly Claiborne couldn’t help herself from breaking into a “happy dance.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development presented the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority with a $29.5 million federal grant that includes revitalizing Ardenwood Village public housing.

“We are not going to be a complex. We are going to be a community,” said Claiborne, 60, the secretary of the Ardenwood Village residents council. “We started at the bottom and now we’ve got some hope.”

The money comes from HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a highly competitive federal program aimed at replacing distressed public housing with high-quality mixed-income housing and community developments. Baton Rouge is one of only four cities to receive the award this year.

“I have to say, before I had this job, at the local level I also applied for this grant, and I never got it, so I’m a little jealous,” said Hunter Kurtz, an assistant secretary at HUD who flew in from Washington, D.C. to deliver a ceremonial “big check” to city-parish leaders.

The funds are earmarked for the Ardendale community, a roughly 2-square-mile area on either side of Ardenwood Drive between Choctaw Drive and Florida Boulevard that includes neighborhoods like Melrose East, Smiley Heights and East Fairfield.

The city-parish was awarded a $500,000 grant from HUD in 2014 to begin developing its grant application, and for years, various city-parish agencies, community leaders and philanthropic organizations like the Baton Rouge Area Foundation worked behind the scenes to develop plans for the area, which was selected for its substandard housing, high crime rates and under-performing schools.

The grant will take at least 5 years to implement and will be spearheaded by Housing Authority CEO J. Wesley Daniels, who described the forthcoming development as an “urban creative village.”

The grant will be used to build a YWCA early learning center and 70-unit senior community, replace all 93 units in Ardenwood Village, and support community enrichment programs, among other plans. Overall, the grant is expected to result in the creation of 434 new housing units.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Angel Gough, 42, a resident of Ardenwood Village. “We’re used to apartments, but this is going to be a subdivision.”

The ceremony Thursday, attended by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and various Metro Council members and other city-parish leaders, centered on the residents of Ardenwood who will benefit from the revitalization.

“At the end of the day, what we are doing is generational change, changing the trajectory of the individuals in which we serve on a daily basis,” Daniels said.

Leroy Davis, 64, an Ardenwood Village resident, said he is delighted the grant will provide his younger neighbors with the kind of educational resources and support he wasn’t afforded at their age.

“They have way more better opportunities than when I was young,” Davis said. “I’m excited for them.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of both Hunter Kurtz and Beverly Claiborne. The Advocate regrets the errors. 

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