The street to Emmanuel Episcopal Center is the only reminder of what used to be part of Cleaborn Homes at Lauderdale Street and St. Paul Avenue.
Where the 1950s-era brick structures once stood are two thriving patches of green in the fertile and early Memphis spring.
Other parts of the development are still standing, but soon new homes and new buildings will spring from the two cleared lots in the first phase of the mixed-income development now called Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and other city leaders broke ground last week for phase one of the 400-unit development in four phases to replace the 650 units on 27 acres by March 2015.
That will leave Foote Homes, next to Cleaborn, as the city’s only remaining large public housing development.
“It brings us nearer to the end of traditional housing and from houses to homes,” Wharton said later. “It’s almost the completion of a revolution in the city of Memphis.”
It’s a revolution financed with five federal HOPE VI grants starting in the late-1990s. The HOPE VI grants have a different name and different criteria. But Wharton hopes there is one more block of federal funding to demolish Foote Homes.
“We are the leader in the country because we do it right,” he said when asked about the prospect.
With the federal funding, the city draws private companies who might not otherwise be involved.
“Their investments are protected. They get a modest return on that. We come in as the government and help spread the risk. We can, with federal funding, spread the risk across the entire nation,” Wharton said. “It makes it able for them to make a profit on it. They can build quicker than we can. The private sector can do things because they don’t have all the bureaucracy.”
The city has also refined its approach to the transition of public housing residents, some of whom return to the developments that become a mix of market value, affordable and subsidized housing.
“Sure there was hope,” said Ruby Bright in referring to the past of Cleaborn Homes. Bright, the executive director of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, which works with the displaced residents on the transition, said that goal remains.
“The goal now is to make it sustainable,” she said.
“I see progress,” added Ian Randolph of the Memphis Housing Authority board. “We know that change can sometimes be difficult.”
The groundbreaking came the same week the countywide school board voted to close nearby Georgia Avenue Elementary School. Its students are to attend LaRose Elementary starting in August.
The school’s enrollment reflects not only a population shift from west to east in Memphis but specific changes at Cleaborn as well with a drop from 605 students to 325.
Wharton said the changes are part of the planning for the community to come.
“There are senior (citizens) who would like to come back or who stayed in this area. It’s not as if it used to be where you built for children and then all the children leave and you have units that are too large,” he said. “When you have it built on a mixed-unit basis for large families, small families and seniors, there will be a place for everybody.”
Phase one is a senior rental apartment house with 82 units to be followed by family rental properties.