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VOL. 130 | NO. 66 | Monday, April 6, 2015

Foote Homes Targeted by Federal Jobs Training Grant

By Bill Dries

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With a HUD official in town last week bearing word of a $3 million job training grant for public housing residents, city leaders remained focused on what Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. calls “the big one.”

HUD deputy assistant secretary Jemine Bryon was in Memphis last week for the announcement of $3 million in federal funding. The money is for a jobs training program for residents of Foote Homes, the city’s last large public housing project.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

“Are we going to get the big one?” was what Wharton said he and others in his administration wanted to know from HUD’s general deputy assistant secretary Jemine Bryon.

He was referring to a much larger federal grant the city would use to demolish Foote Homes, the city’s last large public housing project, and replace it with a mixed-use, mixed-income development.

Bryon demurred tactfully on the prodding about the Choice Neighborhoods program grants with a boilerplate answer, indicating she knew before arriving in Memphis that the larger grant would come up.

Wharton and others from the city had already buttonholed HUD secretary Julian Castro during the National League of Cities meeting recently in Austin, Texas, on the competition for the latest round of Choice Neighborhoods grants.

The $3 million grant Bryon announced Thursday, April 2, would target 291 Foote Homes residents for jobs and job training in a pilot program called Job-Plus.

It comes with new rent rules and incentives and provides the job training at public housing project.

About 1,000 people live in Foote Homes, half of which are adults. Of that 500, 99 are disabled and 315 have jobs which Wharton said represents “a lot of room for growth.”

“There’s nothing more important than connecting people to paychecks,” he said.

Job-Plus does not conflict with the goal of demolishing Foote Homes, Wharton said later.

“It is folded into that,” Wharton said. “We take it right to where they are and make sure the services are there. They are very intense.”

If the city gets the grant to demolish Foote Homes, some of its residents would likely live in private subsidized housing elsewhere through HUD Section 8 vouchers as has happened in the other transitions of local public housing developments that began in the late 1990s.

Wharton and his mayoral predecessor, Willie Herenton, have touted what they have each called “the end of public housing in Memphis” with tens of millions of dollars in federal funding through HUD’s old HOPE VI program.

“There’s nothing more important than connecting people to paychecks.”

–A C Wharton Jr.
City of Memphis Mayor

City housing and community development director Robert Lipscomb, who has been an even more outspoken point man for the effort, linked it to Wharton’s coming outline of what the administration calls a “blueprint for prosperity.”

Lipscomb touted the blueprint as “the most ambitious anti-poverty program ever launched anywhere.”

“In 1999 we had all this bad public housing. We committed to end public housing in a generation,” he said. “When we get the Choice Neighborhood grant, guess what? We will have ended public housing in 15 years.”

The group of 70 in the community room at Foote Homes applauded the sentiment.

But there also has been criticism of the city’s dramatic solution. A group that includes University of Memphis planner Ken Reardon, originally hired by the administration to gather public input on the city’s plan, continues to pursue its alternative, which would keep Foote Homes in place as public housing.

He and other critics contend the conversion of public housing is gentrification.

A woman at the back of the meeting room last week came in wearing a sign reading “We Are A Community.” Otherwise, residents of Foote Homes appeared to be listening for details on what changes the jobs program would mean for them in terms of rent and lease conditions.

Wharton said the area would still be a community if Foote Homes is demolished.

“If you live here, choose to live here and know that you can live here,” Wharton said. ‘Not because you have to live here. But with a job, a good paying job, you can go anywhere. This is why we are building this into a self-sufficient comprehensive neighborhood with health care nearby, parks nearby, shopping nearby, transportation. Choose to live here, not I am trapped in here.”

PROPERTY SALES 105 193 8,028
MORTGAGES 120 239 9,024
BUILDING PERMITS 192 445 17,512
BANKRUPTCIES 27 69 5,228