Tim Holz, president and board chair of the Center for Neighborhoods, lead a discussion about housing at 1619 Flux Art + Activism on Wednesday night. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Tim Holz, president and board chair of Center for Neighborhoods, led a discussion about neighborhood revitalization at 1619 Flux: Art + Activism in the Portland neighborhood on Wednesday night.

“What About Housing?” was part of the 1619 Flux Provocative Prospectives Series, a partnership with the Community Foundation of Louisville to encourage a community dialogue about pressing issues impacting the city’s future.

Each talk in the series, which started in February, features a guest speaker serving as a Provocateur and four group facilitators. After the Provocateur presents the topic, attendees break into smaller groups led by the facilitators to examine the topic on an even deeper level.

Audience member broke up into small discussion group after a talk by Tim Holz about housing at 1619 Flux Art + Activism on Wednesday night. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Past topics in the Provocative Perspectives Series have included violence, school busing and mental health. But Gwen Kelly, the art and community engagement director of 1619 Flux Art, said in 2019 the series would focus exclusively on topics surrounding housing and food insecurity because they are pressing issues in west Louisville.

Holz focused on the pros and cons of the “not-in-my-neighborhood” mentality many neighborhoods have when it comes to affordable housing. He said it is important for residents to have a voice in the development of their community, but warned it would be counterproductive for the community to concentrate affordable housing in one area of the city.

He began his presentation by showing a video of former Louisville Mayor Charles Farnsley touring the Russell neighborhood in the 1970s. Farnsley, Louisville mayor from 1948 to 1953, was examining the empty lots left by urban renewal, a federal program from the 1950s and ’60s that was supposed to improve blighted areas of the city.

More than 40 people showed up at 1619 Art + Activism for the “What About Housing?” discussion on Wednesday night. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Urban renewal, Holz said, was used to erode the economic base of Louisville’s black community by destroying the Walnut Street Business District, between 6th and 15thh Streets along Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard), which featured many black-owned businesses.

In 1924, The Louisville Leader, an early African-American newspaper, boasted about Walnut Street: “Today we have two banks, four insurance companies, two hotels, … two building and loan associations, six real estate companies, three drug stores, eight undertakers, two photographers, fifteen groceries, four newspapers, three architects … three movie houses and buildings for our business and professional men.”

In the video Holz showed, Farnsley admits the goal of urban renewal in Louisville was to “drive the Negro from the central area” so downtown would not become a “black belt.”

Holz said urban renewal was an extension of redlining, the systemic denial of goods and services to a specific area or group. In the 1930s, Louisville urban planner drew up a redlining map that labeled neighborhoods as green, blue, yellow and red.

Green and blue designated the best neighborhoods in town. Areas marked red, mostly majority African-American neighborhoods like Russell, were neighborhoods where banks would not give mortgages for homes or charged higher rates.  

The Highlands and surrounding areas were marked yellow, which meant it was also difficult to get a loan to move into those neighborhoods. Holz said his friend David Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corp., had to get a home loan from a credit union because no bank would give him a mortgage to live in the Cherokee Triangle.

Holz examined the factors that led to Cherokee Triangle becoming a desirable area while Russell and other west Louisville neighborhoods filled with low-income housing. He said property values in and around the Highlands increased not only because the residents organized, but city officials listened to what they wanted.

Holz said in 1974, the Cherokee Triangle Neighborhood Association created the first neighborhood plan in the city not written solely by city officials. And in the 1980s, he said, the residents created a historic preservation district that protected Cherokee Triangle’s distinct architecture.

Holz said the resident of Russell never had the same agency or support from decision makers. He said west Louisville residents should have a voice in the development in the area or history will repeat itself.

“If people talk to me, they are going to ask what is great about my neighborhood. If they talk to someone from California, they are going to ask about the problems in their neighborhood. They need to have the right to talk about what’s right about their neighborhood and to use that to change what is wrong,” Holz told Insider.

Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, was among the people in attendance. Following the presentation, Hinko told the audience that redlining is not just a part of history but continues to this day.

She said west Louisville resident are routinely denied home loans because banks say there are not properties of comparable value in the area and insurance companies charge higher rates in the area even though claim rates are in line with other areas of the city.

|“When we went from a renter country to a homeownership country – which happened in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s – by law African-Americans were not allowed to participate,” Hinko explained. “We are more sophisticated in our redlining, but it still exists. In fact, you can overlay maps of today over the redlining map of 1937 and you can see the same areas being impacted today.”

Jamie Moe, a Westport Village resident, was among the more than 40 people who attended. Moe, a Minneapolis native, said she felt it was enlightening because there were so many parallels between what happened in Louisville and her hometown.

“I’ve come to every single event in this series,” she said. “It is worth the drive because these are conversations that I don’t always get to have where I live.”

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Tim Holz lives in the Cherokee Triangle and that the Cherokee Triangle Neighborhood Association wrote the first independent neighborhood plan.