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VOL. 119 | NO. 208 | Monday, November 14, 2005

City Works to Keep Revitalization Focus

Budget crisis could place affordable housing efforts on hold

By Rosalind Guy

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NEW START: The final phase of development recently was completed at College Park, an affordable housing community near LeMoyne-Owen College. -- Photograph By Andy Meek

With the city's recent decision to place a moratorium on capital improvement projects in Memphis, it's possible that a number of affordable housing projects that have been started around the city could be placed temporarily on hold.

The city has been working through the HOPE VI (Homeownership Opportunities for People Everywhere) grant program to rebuild old housing projects and replace them with revitalized neighborhoods.

One snag facing the initiative right now is Memphis' $25.8 million deficit.

Restoring neighborhoods. Since the city first became involved with the HOPE VI program, it has seen small but remarkable successes, such as the College Park project, a mixed-income, affordable housing community located across from LeMoyne-Owen College. College Park replaced the LeMoyne Gardens public housing development, which was built in the early 1940s and contained about 800 public housing units.

Robert Kurtz, director of capital improvements with the Memphis Housing Authority, said the final phase of development at College Park recently was completed.

The development was one of a range of projects MHA and the Division of Housing and Community Development has initiated using funds obtained through HOPE VI, an effort of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HOPE VI funding is granted for affordable housing projects that aim to revitalize areas in desperate need of affordable housing. Kurtz said all HOPE VI grants are competitive.

New project. Memphis recently was awarded $20 million in HOPE VI funding to revitalize public housing in the Dixie Homes neighborhood, built in 1938. Kurtz said the project includes plans for 30 single-family homes across the street from the recently completed Askew Place, a 25-unit public housing development.

"We would possibly look at a lease-to-purchase arrangement so that individuals that really wanted to get into homeownership and move out of a multifamily setting would have several years of transition in Askew Place getting accustomed to single-family dwelling and the responsibilities that go with it," Kurtz said.

Self-sufficiency. MHA has partnered with several organizations to help residents gain the skills necessary to lead them to self-sufficiency. The Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis is working with MHA to provide community service support for the HOPE VI projects.

Gayle Rose, HOPE VI development chair for the Women's Foundation, said the foundation's initial commitment was to provide support services for families moving into the University Place community.

University Place, which was slated to break ground this month, is a planned development that will take the place of the former Lamar Terrace public housing community. The project will be completed in three phases and include a 118-unit senior center, 152-unit second phase and 51-unit third phase.

The city also plans to extend Central Avenue west toward East Street to form a southern boundary parallel to railroad tracks that border the other side of the planned development.

Transition to homeownership. The Women's Foundation is looking to raise $6.8 million to offer services to residents who choose to move into the developments that will replace the former Lamar Terrace and Dixie Homes communities.

"With the funds, we will pay for case managers for the residents to assess where residents are and to work with them to get whatever they need to further their ability to get a living-wage job," Rose said.

Kurtz said the partnerships MHA has formed are one of the unique aspects of the city's revitalization efforts. The organization also has partnered with Wesley Housing Corp. of Memphis, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, on a senior housing center being constructed as part of the renovation of Fowler Homes. The development will be called Latham Terrace.

Larry Kaler, CEO of Wesley Housing Corp., said the organization will manage the development and provide community service support in the form of pastoral care and visitation.

Funding uncertainty. It isn't known at this point if any projects MHA has planned for the coming year and beyond will be affected by the city moratorium.

Kurtz said MHA supports the city's efforts to identify the various projects that are under way and determine which items can and can't be funded.

"The housing authority and the city partnered up to make application for federal grant funds and collaborated with other private parties to put together a leverage package for these developments," he said, adding that he believes those considerations will be taken into account as the city reviews its CIP budget.

PROPERTY SALES 51 333 19,446
MORTGAGES 68 383 22,433
BUILDING PERMITS 138 688 40,004
BANKRUPTCIES 34 238 12,486