More than 800 Little Rock public housing units set to undergo major renovations

Units inside Cumberland Towers, Parris Towers & Jesse Powell Towers are set for a massive remodel, with a price tag of more than $105 million, expected to get underway next year. (Photo: KATV)

More than 800 public housing units managed by the Metropolitan Housing Alliance are in store for a much needed upgrade; the total cost expected to do it all is ball-parked at $105 million.

Tuesday, MHA announced a pre-bid information session for subcontractors, vendors and service providers; the meeting set to provide details about the project and how they can submit bids and guarantee contracts for the multi-million dollar project.

The first phase of what MHA has titled - "Redevelopment in the Rock" - will focus on renovations to 597 public housing units at Parris Towers, Cumberland Towers and Jesse Powell Towers. All of the buildings are more than 40 years old.

Management at Parris Towers rarely hears complaints from resident Bernadette Gulley, referring to her as constantly upbeat - going out of her way to avoid the complainers. But Gulley admits the building she's called home for the last three years could certainly use some work.

"If you can fix this place up, by all means do so," said Gulley.

MHA held back on leasing several open public housing units in each of the buildings set for renovations in order to allow residents whose apartments are being redone to move into a vacant unit temporarily.

"The plan for construction is to do one floor at a time," said Rodney Forte, MHA executive director. "So you need two floors vacant - move one group to one floor and when you finish in 60 days, you move them back."

Forte said it was pertinent to avoid having to relocate residents off-site; most of the residents are ages 50 and over - many are also disabled.

Gulley said she's more than ready to make the temporary move, especially if it means she'll finally get a dishwasher. She said staff has fully informed residents of the remodel - and while some residents are hesitant - Gulley said she fully embraces the change.

"I'm ready for them to get started," chuckled Gulley.

Forte said the MHA board challenged him and his staff to up the quality of living standards within public housing. When Forte came on five years ago, he said his team began investigating the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which in essence has "loosened the strings" on how local housing authorities can finance much overdue capital investment projects.

"This is about the useful life of the property," said Forte, adding that the first three properties up for renovations are soon to be on the National Register of Historic Properties.

While some of the project will be funded with local and federal dollars, Forte said the ability to tap into private equity is what allowed MHA to tackle such a large-scale project.

"Private equity, all types of funding, in order to be able to do the renovations that are needed," said Forte.

A decent portion is being financed through tax-credit trade-offs sold to private investors, allowing companies and interested individuals to cash in on reducing their tax liabilities.

MHA is hoping to use predominantly local businesses to complete the project. The pre-bid information session for subcontractors, service providers and vendors will be held on Tuesday, September 19th at Parris Towers from noon to 1:00 PM. They will be seeking businesses and employees that work in demolition, abatement, cabinetry, flooring, plumbing, electrical, roofing, HVAC installers, painting, carpentry, pipefitting, sheet metal workers, masonry, landscaping, movers, boilermakers, drywall finishers/tapers, insulators, sprinkler fitters and general laborers.

Bids are due by October 31. MHA hopes to have construction underway by January 1 and completed within 18-20 months.

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