The Lincoln Grove neighborhood was once a solid working class community of modest single-family homes. But construction of the 380-unit Morningside Homes public housing project in the 1950s destroyed the original neighborhood fabric. This large concentration of very low-income families changed the tone of the neighborhood, which became characterized by predominantly rental housing, high densities, and the City's highest crime rate. Morningside Homes was the Greensboro Housing Authority's oldest and most deteriorated development. Historical events solidified Morningside's image as housing of last choice. The Klan/Nazi confrontation almost three decades ago at Morningside remained emblazoned in the community's memory and in its final years, more than 38 percent of units offered at Morningside were turned down by applicants.
The $76 million Willow Oaks Revitalization Project, a public-private partnership sponsored by the Greensboro Housing Authority and the City of Greensboro, is transforming the obsolete Morningside Homes and the surrounding Lincoln Grove area into a vibrant, mixed-income, mixed tenure, mixed-use community of choice. With quality land planning and architectural design, an aggressive economic self-sufficiency program, and private property development and management, this project now serves as a model for how redevelopment of a 50-year-old, obsolete public housing “project” can become a catalyst for comprehensive neighborhood revitalization.
Renamed Willow Oaks by a committee of residents, the planning process for this new community brought together more than 50 entities, including the City, GHA, lead developer Mid-City Urban, LLC, public housing and community residents, neighborhood activists, local non-profit and for-profit builders, Bennett College, NC A&T State University, and a host of service providers whose goal was to “fix” the root causes preventing this neighborhood from being what it was and can be again: a community of choice for working class citizens.
Planning began in 1996 with Morningside Homes resident group meetings. Residents conducted a survey in 1997 to determine the vision and desires of the public housing residents. Later that year, the City joined the team and expanded the effort to include the entire neighborhood. Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company Town Planners, internationally known proponents of “new urbanism,” was hired to coordinate design efforts and held the first public design charrette in May 1997. Based on the discoveries of the charrette, the City and Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro prepared a comprehensive Redevelopment Plan, adopted in July of 2000. Focus groups and a second design charrette to fine-tune the plan were held in August 2000. In February 2001, a Traditional Neighborhood Development Plan to govern new construction was finalized, and the central redevelopment area was rezoned.
Willow Oaks represents the best planning practices for the 21st Century. A mixed-income resident base is creating the foundation for the new community. Rental and owner-occupied units appeal to and will house a wide spectrum of income levels, including 300 units for low-income residents who meet public housing eligibility requirements. A mixed-use land plan mingles single family and attached housing throughout the neighborhood. Block-faces have a seamless look, regardless of whether units are rented or owner-occupied. Service and civic uses are also being integrated into the neighborhood.
All residential units in Willow Oaks are privately developed and will be privately owned and managed. The Villas at Willow Oaks, a 40-unit senior village, and The Townhomes at Willow Oaks, 110 family units, are fully occupied with lengthy waiting lists, even as the overall vacancy rate for rental units in the City pushes 10 percent. Construction is in progress for single-family homes, a 60-unit tax credit project and the Community/Child Development Center. The City’s commitment to the project has been to assemble land for development around the Morningside site and provide improvements and upgrades to the surrounding infrastructure, work that is well underway.
Phase I housing construction is essentially complete. About 210 units of the multi-family are leased with waiting lists. Construction of the community / childcare building is complete. Phase II Infrastructure construction is substantially complete and single-family housing production is underway. Planning is also underway for the land in Phase III and the commercial / retail component of the Willow Oaks Village Center. Willow Oaks is well on its way to being one of the most livable and desirable neighborhoods in Greensboro.
For current Requests For Proposals and Qualifications for all Planning and Community Development projects, please visit the Requests for Proposals / Qualifications web page.
Map of Willow Oaks