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VOL. 127 | NO. 204 | Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vance Plan Could Move to Land Use Control Board

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members recommended Tuesday, Oct. 16, sending a plan to the Land Use Control Board that calls for the revitalization of the Vance Avenue area and leaves the Foote Homes public housing development intact.

St. Patrick’s Church sits south of FedExForum near the Vance Avenue corridor. A Vance Avenue Renaissance Plan unveiled recently by the Vance Avenue Collaborative is intended to revitalize the neighborhood south of FedExForum. 

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

The committee recommendation goes to the full council for a vote at its Nov. 6 meeting.

There is certain to be more discussion about what amounts to two very different outlooks on the future of public housing in Memphis.

Land Use Control Board approval would make the plan preserving Foote Homes the policy framework for future development of the area.

The plan by the Vance Avenue Collaborative, a coalition of 22 community groups in the area south of FedExForum, differs from general city plans for the area. Demolition of the neighboring Cleaborn Homes public housing development began last year.

Foote Homes is the last of the city’s large public housing projects. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration’s stated goal has been to continue the elimination of concentrated public housing through federal funding to demolish the developments and replace them with mixed-use, mixed-income housing.

The new housing is built with private investment leveraged by the public funding. The demolitions using federal funding began in the late 1990s during Willie Herenton’s administration.

City Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb said the city has not sought any federal funding for the demolition of Foote Homes and approved no plans for that.

“To tell these people that they are relocating is a complete misrepresentation,” Lipscomb told council members as he left just before the committee session began.

Mairi Albertson, administrator for the city’s Housing Division, remained at the session to respond to council questions.

Albertson said the city has broad plans for a much larger area that includes Foote and Cleaborn Homes called Heritage Trails but no specific plan for Foote Homes at this point. Heritage Trails was until recently called “Triangle Noir,” a 10-year $1 billion plan for the revitalization of the area south of FedExForum into South Memphis on the other side of E.H. Crump Boulevard. The plan was developed and introduced during the Herenton administration and it included the demolition of both housing projects.

“We don’t have a plan to compare this with,” she said of the collaborative’s plan for the smaller Vance Avenue area. “We’re working with all of the residents.”

Council member Janis Fullilove asked the packed committee room, including some Foote Home residents, how many were part of the administration’s effort. None raised their hands.

Albertson said the city “opted not to renew” its contract with the collaborative organized by Ken Reardon of the University of Memphis City and Regional Planning School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy.

The relationship between the city and the collaborative began 15 months ago and ended as it became apparent the collaborative was of a different mind about the future of Foote Homes.

“We don’t think at this point it makes sense to eliminate 426 units of serviceable, quality affordable housing,” Reardon said, citing a waiting list for federal Section 8 certificates for government subsidies to rent privately owned housing. “Under their plan, everybody will be involuntarily displaced for several years. … Under our plan, we’re taking 50 units at a time, relocating people to available housing nearby and in six months upgrading units and moving them back.”

Lipscomb as recently as last month said the large housing projects have had the effect of concentrating poverty to such a degree that the concentration made it difficult for public housing residents to overcome poverty.

Reardon said the past demolitions of public housing developments have not included enough services to help residents make what can be a difficult adjustment out of the projects. He was also critical of what he says is a small percentage of public housing residents who return to live in the new developments on the same grounds with others including those paying fair market value.

The Rev. Noel Hutchinson, pastor of First Baptist Church on Lauderdale, however, said that the “parting of the ways” between the administration and the collaborative is over a concept, not a plan.

“The community is in the middle of this foolishness,” he said. “It’s all over the place. It’s a concept.”

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