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Asked to vacate Victoria Square, many residents want to stay in Newport. But that is a challenge

George Campbell grew up just across the street from Victoria Square in a now-demolished housing complex. He says it's getting increasingly difficult to afford living in Newport.
Nick Swartsell
George Campbell grew up just across the street from Victoria Square in a now-demolished housing complex. He says it's getting increasingly difficult to afford living in Newport.

On any given day, there is a rush of activity along the western Newport riverfront as a new billion-dollar, 25-acre entertainment and residential development called Ovation rises.

The project’s been years in the works and has elicited a lot of excitement. But by the time new businesses and residents move in, hundreds of people who live right across the street will have moved out.

Many would like to stay in Newport — but aren’t sure if they’ll be able to afford it.

Victoria Square’s 232 units are spread across a few blocks just south of the coming Ovation development. Earlier this summer, the complex changed hands and residents found out they’ll have to move out soon.

George Campbell has lived in Victoria Square for about a year — but he grew up just across the street. Back then, the land was occupied by the Peter G. Noll subsidized housing project, built by HUD in 1953. Those apartments were vacated and demolished in stages between 2006 and 2016.

“I lived about a thousand feet that way along the flood wall," he says, pointing to where Ovation is being built now. "Those were housing projects built by the government… it was low income housing for families. I spent my whole childhood there.”

Campbell remembers playing in nearby woods with neighboring kids and the tight-knit sense of community he found. Newport — and especially this western part of it tucked between the Ohio and Licking Rivers — feels like home to him, even if it doesn’t look anything like the place he grew up.

Victoria Square is the latest large affordable housing complex in Northern Kentucky to close as rents rise and low and moderate income people have a harder time finding housing. Covington's subsidized housing complex City Heights is also closing, for example. Between the two complexes, Northern Kentucky will lose almost 600 units of affordable housing.

Residents say when renovations are complete on Victoria Square, the units will cost more than most can afford. Many are worried they’ll have a hard time finding any place else in the city that rents for the relatively low $700 a month Victoria Square costs. The median rent in Newport is roughly $1,500 a month, according to Zillow — $91 a month more than last year.

'This came as a total surprise'

Campbell says what makes it worse is residents got little notice.

“This came as a total surprise to every resident of this complex. Everybody was shocked by it," he says. "That’s what brought people out and started talking to each other. Then two days later, we get another handbill that tells us we have 60 days to vacate.”

During a recent Newport City Commission meeting, Mayor Tom Guidugli Jr. agreed residents have been put in a tough situation. He says the city’s looking for answers.

“We believe that the developer handled this very poorly and we’re looking for ways to find solutions," he said. "It caught us off-guard and ill-prepared.”

A number of organizations, including Newport nonprofit Brighton Center, the local NAACP chapter and others have been working to help residents find housing and other resources. But many residents say they're still struggling to find new places to live.

The new owners, Sunset Property Solutions, have agreed to let some residents stay a little longer — into October — and will give each $500 upon move out. Other residents with longer leases will be able to stay until January.

Victoria Square resident Charles Williams has lived in the complex for 11 years. He’s the vice chair of a neighborhood group called the Westside Citizens Coalition. Williams told commissioners he’s most concerned about the many vulnerable individuals and families who live at the complex.

“Victoria has a diversity of people in it, some disabled," he said. "That’s my main concern, because I’m disabled. But also we have not only those who are disabled, but those families that need — there are residents whose kids are going to be leaving the Newport school system.”

Williams is also concerned about he, his wife and his neighbors being able to stay in Newport.

“We want to live here in Newport. We do. As an African American couple, we want to live here in Newport. There are a lot of my residents that are leaving and they have nowhere else to go.”

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.