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VOL. 124 | NO. 243 | Friday, December 11, 2009

Latest Public Housing Options Unveiled at Levi Road

By Bill Dries

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NEW HOUSING OPTIONS: Levi Landing and Lakeview Apartments formally opened on Levi Road west of South Third Street this week. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Batsell Booker remembered the excitement he felt in 1972 when his family moved to public housing on Horn Lake Road in Southwest Memphis.

“They were the best thing I had ever seen. … You wouldn’t think that today,” he said. “But we had some great times.”

Booker, now a Memphis Fire Department chief, lived in Horn Lake Heights, one of several smaller public housing developments the Memphis Housing Authority built in the 1970s as an alternative to the larger housing projects like Dixie Homes and Hurt Village in the inner city.

Horn Lake Heights reopened in September as the new mixed-income rental community Austin Park Place. Booker was at the ribbon-cutting this week for the latest remake of affordable housing in the area, this time at two private apartment complexes.

The Memphis Land Bank, with a mixture of public and private financing, developed Levi Landing and Lakeview Apartments on Levi Road west of South Third Street.

“There were days before 1991 when you mentioned a street address or a property address or a neighborhood and it had a stigma,” said attorney Marty Regan of the Memphis Land Bank, referring to the transition of public housing across Memphis in the last 18 years to mixed-income developments.

Booker said despite his initial excitement as a child, he came to understand the stigma he said he hopes children in the remade developments won’t have to endure.

Batsell Booker

“They won’t have to wear a lot of the labels that we wore back then – project kids – being isolated. They can have pride. I think this is a great thing,” he said.

The two developments combine federal funding with private equity financing by Boston Financial. They also combine a certain percentage of public housing units with market-rate housing.

Levi Landing has 32 single-family homes for rent. The adjacent Lakeview Apartments has 184 rental homes.

Like Austin Park, both apartment complexes were rebuilt from the ground up.

“That’s transformed this whole area,” city Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb told The Daily News.

“We only have one more – that’s Graves Manor,” Lipscomb said, referring to the remaining smaller MHA developments that are being rebuilt through the Memphis Land Bank. “We’ll have that done in two to three years.”

Lipscomb probably will be around for the opening of Graves Manor as well. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. will formally nominate Lipscomb next week to continue as the city’s director of Housing and Community Development. Wharton also spoke at the Levi openings, calling the changes in public housing a “revolution” that he wants to see continue.

The formal openings in Southwest Memphis have continued through the recent changes in who oversees city government. Willie Herenton attended the groundbreaking for Austin Park when he was mayor. Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery was at the ribbon-cutting and Wharton was at the Levi Road ribbon-cutting this week as well as two Shelby County mayors – acting Mayor Joyce Avery and incoming interim Mayor Joe Ford.

Lipscomb has been the most vocal advocate of the change.

“We’ve got to get rid of all of these pockets of poverty. We’ve got to create opportunities for people. The only way we’re going to do that is to create mixed-income communities,” Lipscomb said as the dignitaries looked over one of the new rental houses. “It’s really a geography. … If you look at Memphis, it’s a geography of poverty. These places have the highest crime rate, the poorest school attendance. They have higher unemployment.”

The smaller properties like Levi Landing are not likely candidates for federal HOPE VI funding that has made possible the demolition of all but two of the city’s large housing projects, Lipscomb added. So the Memphis Land Bank has used a different source of federal government funding from the department of Housing and Urban Development to convince private equity firms like Boston Financial that their risk has been minimized enough to get involved in the building of affordable housing.

The Levi developments are also privately managed by Lighthouse Property Management Group.

PROPERTY SALES 81 201 16,108
MORTGAGES 40 104 10,026
BUILDING PERMITS 130 336 38,272
BANKRUPTCIES 28 56 7,528