Anyone driving along Washington Street West has likely noticed the construction of 28 new apartments right before crossing Two-Mile Creek at the former site of Clark Industries.
But the apartments aren't new private housing - they're the latest addition to the Charleston-Kanawha Housing Authority's project to replace its older housing stock - some of which is more than 70 years old.
"If you picked someone up and dropped them off here, they wouldn't know they're in public housing," said Clifton Clark, accounting supervisor for housing authority.
Instead of drab, boxy, multistory apartment buildings with interior corridors, the latest additions are smaller, two and three-story buildings, with most apartments having separate entrances from the outside.
The benefits are many: Tenants feel more pride, the look of the neighborhood is improved, and the absence of out-of-sight corridors reduces crime, he said.
"It's easier to manage from our perspective," said Mark Taylor, chief executive officer of the housing authority.
Most of the housing authority's new apartments feature a living room and kitchen/dining area on the first floor, and one or two bedrooms on the second floor. Each unit has a front and back entrance.
The complexes are designed so that parking spaces can only be accessed from one entrance and exit, thereby eliminating the ability of vehicular traffic to drive straight through the complex. Taylor said the design acts as a "deterrent" to crime.
At the latest construction site, known as Graystone Manor, 20 one-bedroom apartments and eight two-bedroom apartments are expected to be finished by December, just a year after the buildings that used to occupy the site were demolished.
An open house will be held in October.
When that project starts to wind down, the authority will embark on its next venture, known as "Charleston Replacement Housing 8." That round of construction will involve new units on property across Washington Street from Graystone Manor, and on property where the former American Legion building sits on Seventh Avenue.
Fewer units are being built than before.
For example, at the Washington Manor project in downtown Charleston, 304 original units in the old buildings have been downsized to 162 units.
The downsizing makes the projects safer for residents and better for the community all around, Taylor said.
"The way the (older) buildings were built wasn't manageable," he said.
Housing projects didn't used to have the stigma they do today. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Littlepage Terrace and Washington Manor were the first public housing projects built in West Virginia - the former in 1939 and the latter in 1940.
Littlepage Terrace consisted of 10 four-story buildings on the West Side that totaled 170 units ranging from one bedroom to three bedrooms. Every apartment had a living room, bathroom, kitchen and dining area. Some buildings had basements that had laundry facilities, a play area for children and incinerators for trash.
Littlepage Terrace was originally only for white residents. Only seven of the original buildings remain.
Washington Manor in Charleston's downtown comprised of 16 three-story buildings with amenities similar to Littlepage Terrace. The complex had a total of 304 units - 177 for white residents and 127 for black residents. Twelve of the 16 buildings were renovated in the 1970s. All of the original buildings were torn down by 2010.
For the new tenants at the time, the projects were an upgrade from shacks and dilapidated structures in which they lived previously. Residents in Kanawha, Putnam and Clay counties were all eligible to move into new housing.
"At the time, it was very nice," Taylor said.
After Washington Manor and Littlepage Terrace, more projects were built, including Orchard Manor on the West Side, which was built in the 1950s and had 360 units across several buildings at its peak.
Later in the century, high-rises became a national trend for public housing, which resulted in the construction of buildings like Carroll Terrace, Lee Terrace and Jarrett Terrace in Charleston.
But as time went on, the original projects became outdated and undesirable. Making matters worse was the notion that crime was higher in public housing - both real and perceived.
"You didn't know who was out there when you walked out," Taylor said of the building's interior corridors.
In addition, amenities developed since the projects were built - like modern washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and other electronics - were not in existence, and apartments were not designed to handle those things, furthering undesirability.