Russell | Louisville, Kentucky
Once the Harlem of the South, Louisville’s Russell neighborhood has embarked on a community-led renaissance designed to build Black wealth.
Russell’s abundance of Black-owned homes and businesses once earned it the title Harlem of the South. And its residents have included a long line of esteemed and barrier-breaking chemists, civil rights leaders, teachers, lawyers, preachers, doctors and civil servants.
But the city’s Great Flood of 1937 caused extensive property damage that decimated Russell’s economy. The next decades brought redlining, predatory lending and foreclosures, exacerbating economic decline.
These and other race-based policies stripped wealth from the neighborhood – leaving it with an 18% homeownership rate and a fragmented business community.
Russell is immediately west of Louisville’s central business district. But a series of urban planning strategies disconnected the neighborhood from downtown and worsened market conditions.
Community leaders also underscore the devastating impact of inequitable incarceration and sentencing, and disinvestment in neighborhood assets. These systemic barriers and injustices have undermined well-being and quality of life: residents of Russell experience higher rates of housing instability, unemployment, chronic disease and lower life expectancy.
Still, many residents have lived in Russell for decades and take deep pride in their homes and neighborhood. They believe that community building, and collective and individual ownership, are key to realizing Russell’s promise.
With hundreds of millions of dollars in planned and ongoing investment, Russell is poised to experience a neighborhood renaissance. The time is right for new strategies that focus on Black wealth building and investment without displacement of residents or businesses.
Russell: A Place of Promise – a fiscally sponsored project of the Community Foundation of Louisville – will carry out a multi-stakeholder partnership effort to advance economic justice.
The plan calls for investing in the creation and expansion of residential and business ownership by Russell residents. It reflects input from a broad range of residents and community organizations. That input culminated in an innovative resident power-sharing model. The model gives Russell residents a voice and leadership in strategy development and oversight.
The housing vision includes:
- New single-family homes and owner-occupied duplexes
- A homebuyers club
- A renter wealth-building program offering matched savings for home purchases and business startups
- An expanded free home-repair program to stabilize and retain existing homeowners
Business development initiatives include the expansion of an existing Small Business Accelerator. The partnership will also form a collection of Black professionals to provide “back office” services to Black businesses.
In addition, LHOME, a local CDFI, will help grow Black-owned businesses with a range of offerings: flexible, small business lending, equity-based down-payment assistance, credit-building products and seed grants.
The economic mobility plan is aligned with and informed by public and private commitments totaling nearly $800 million in housing, infrastructure and commercial development.
“This investment reinforces that we’re on the right track. We can carry out the commitments we’ve made as a community – and we can make our dream a reality and bring our goals to fruition.”
− Cassandra Webb, Director of Innovation & Research,
What Success Looks Like
Russell: A Place of Promise has set a course for tangible impact. Shorter-term outcomes include:
- Businesses with improved credit able to access traditional debt and equity
- Greater property ownership (homes, businesses and commercial) among Black residents and businesses
- Multifamily and single-family housing construction coupled with pathways for Russell residents to access affordable rental and homeownership to build wealth
Looking to the next decade, the organization projects:
- Increased homeownership among Black residents
- Thriving Black businesses that create neighborhood jobs and revive Russell’s commercial district
- A proven national model for Black wealth creation and resident leadership
In the next 25 years, Russell: A Place of Promise envisions:
- Legacy businesses that offer generational wealth for their owners
- Wealth-building through the generational transfer of homes and commercial property
- A strong culture of resident leadership and ownership in Russell