VOL. 124 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 24, 2009
City Closer to Erasing Public Housing
By Bill Dries
“We’re almost there. We only have a few more sites to go before we can eliminate the words ‘public housing’ from our vocabulary. Wouldn’t that be great?”
– Robert Lipscomb
City director of Housing and Community Development
On paper they’re called mixed-finance properties. A smaller front in the city’s 10-year effort to change the face of public housing in Memphis, they are the sites of four smaller public housing projects in different parts of the city, ranging from 100 units to nearly 300.
This week, city leaders and others cut the ribbon on the new Austin Park Place development in Southeast Memphis. The development of 71 new rental homes including 68 duplex units is built on the site of the old Horn Lake Heights public housing development.
Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb called it “another step in our journey to get rid of public housing.”
“We’re almost there. We only have a few more sites to go before we can eliminate the words ‘public housing’ from our vocabulary,” he told a crowd of 50 people in a tent at the newly built intersection of Latrobe and Leclare drives. “Wouldn’t that be great?”
Lipscomb recalled the old 80-unit townhouse project that was the site of a 1998 firebombing that killed three children and one adult in a townhouse packed with eleven people. Six others in the unit were injured.
“This place was firebombed. … I was in shock,” Lipscomb recalled. “We’ve gone from firebombing to rebuilding what we call public housing. It’s not public housing. It’s affordable housing.”
Construction on the $12 million project began in August 2008 after everything on the parcel of land on Horn Lake near Third Street was demolished.
The nonprofit Memphis Land Bank Inc. awarded the construction contract to City Housing LLC, a partnership between FaxonGillis Homes and Dean Tutor. The Memphis Housing Authority operates Memphis Land Bank.
Part of the development was financed with low income housing tax credits, which require the rentals to be limited to families with incomes 60 percent or less of the area’s median income. Median income in metro Memphis is $45,725, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
The tax credit through the Tennessee Housing Development Authority (THDA) was what got SunTrust Community Capital interested, said Ellen Ward, assistant vice president at SunTrust Bank. The bank gets a tax credit against its Tennessee tax liability and the loan comes with a .5 percent interest rate.
“This is our first one. But we are entertaining taking out some permanent pieces on a few of the other properties around here. Hopefully we’ll do new ones if there is more to be done in the future,” Ward told The Daily News. “Naturally, anytime the real estate market goes down, you’ve got a little more risk on your hands. … Having the land bank and the housing authority behind it brings a lot of strength to the table.”
Memphis Land Bank has been one of the entities involved in the demolition of all but two of the city’s public housing projects, not counting four high-rises for senior citizens, begun during former Mayor Willie Herenton’s administration.
Cleaborn Homes and Foote Homes are the only two housing projects still standing and are part of the ambitious, 10-year, $1 billion proposal called Triangle Noir. It would demolish and replace both housing projects with mixed-use, mixed-income housing to help spark commercial and residential development in the broader south Downtown and South Memphis area.
The larger developments of 450 to 900 units were rebuilt with a mix of federal funds under the HOPE VI program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and private financing, said Molly Beard, executive director of the Memphis Land Bank.
Earlier this week, the city received another $8 million in federal funding from HOPE VI for the next phase of Legends Park, the mixed-use, mixed-income development built on the site of the old Dixie Homes housing project near the Downtown Medical Center.
The smaller developments like Austin Park Place are financed with money from a different HUD program and private financing.
‘Not giving up’
The Austin financing was a mix of $6.2 million in HUD money with $5.9 million in private funds.
For all six smaller developments, including Austin, the city has $16.2 million in HUD or public money and $44.5 million in private financing.
Tonnie Carter, a working single mother of six who now lives in the University of Memphis area, was among those who waited in line to apply to live in the new development.
Her goal was “to be someplace where you can pull in your own drive in front of your own door.”
“Five o’clock in the morning I was here with my Barney blanket, my water bottle and my muffin,” Carter said. “I think what used to be public housing is for young girls who are trying to get on their feet. I’m 35 years old. I want to be there. I want to set examples for my children. I know it’s hard but I’m not giving up.”