Capitol Hill Housing has entered a memorandum of understanding that paves the way for making its future Liberty Bank affordable housing development one that preserves and empowers the Central District’s black community. 

“The community has been working, definitely aggressively, since the Key Bank closed, but previously it was important to put the asset back into service,” said Wyking Garrett, CEO of the Africatown-Central District Preservation and Development Association, “empowering the black community, as it was initially founded to provide access to capital that was being denied previously.”

The Central District has been rapidly gentrifying for years, and an MOU signed Tuesday, Oct. 11, between CHH, Africatown,The Black Community Impact Alliance and self-sufficiency nonprofit Centerstone will preserve the black community’s history and empower its future.

The MOU establishes a guide for achieving several goals that will make Liberty Bank an asset in the Central District: A design that connects with the history of the community; prioritizing local and minority hires for the project; developing and supporting black-owned businesses; long-term African American ownership; reaffirming the CD as a hub of the Pan-African community, exploring further policy changes and diversifying CHH.

Though most of the original Liberty Bank was razed last October, some features will carry over into the 115-unit affordable housing development, such as the old bank vault.

“I think what this MOU really brings together is making sure a lot of the other features, beyond design, will really lift up the African American community in the Central District,” Warrior said.

“I think this partnership is a step in the right direction,” Garrett said. “We have to have development that is inclusive, that includes rather than displaces, and I think that is the number one priority for the city, that we are all able to grow into the future of the city.”

CHH is aiming for a spring 2017 groundbreaking and completion of the project in summer 2018.

The MOU commits the Capitol Hill Housing Foundation to providing $5,000 annually for three years to help establish a business innovation fund that empowers black business owners. Liberty Bank is designed to include 2,695 square feet of retail space. Warrior said it’s possible the funding could be used to help people establish businesses there, modifying the space as needed. 

Under the MOU, CHH will diversify its board and staff to better reflect its expansion into the Central District. Garrett said that could mean adding an Africatown representative.

“We will continue to engage the community,” he said, “and move the project forward.”

Africatown will be hosting a community engagement meeting  6-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, at Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave.,  to give status updates, share opportunities and get input on developments surrounding Liberty Bank.