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VOL. 130 | NO. 192 | Friday, October 2, 2015

Earlier Conversions Leave Lessons for Foote Homes Project

By Bill Dries

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The coming redevelopment of Foote Homes will be different from previous public housing conversions, incorporating lessons learned from relocating residents.

Foote Homes (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The last phase of neighboring Cleaborn Homes’ conversion to a mixed-use, mixed-income development is under construction on the other side of Lauderdale Street. It will create 67 multifamily units and should be completed by the end of the year.

“Literally people will have the opportunity to move from Foote to Cleaborn if they choose to,” said Archie Willis, president of Community Capital, on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “It’s not a lot of units and they have priority.”

Some Foote Homes residents will have vouchers for private rental units in other parts of the city, a strategy used more extensively in earlier public housing conversions.

“We’re trying to look at different ways and take advantage of the current environment at Cleaborn to create opportunities for people to relocate in the neighborhood,” he said. “In those cases, they wouldn’t have to move again.”

Willis is local project manager for the Foote Homes conversion as well as the development of what is now Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing.

The 1,000 Foote Homes residents also will be eligible for vacancies at the Legends Park and University Place developments.

The plans for Foote Homes moved forward with the word Monday, Sept. 29, that the city and Memphis Housing Authority had been awarded a $30 million federal grant for the conversion of the city’s last large housing project.

Behind The Headlines, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, airs at 7 p.m. on WKNO-TV.

Roslyn Willis is project manager with McCormack, Baron and Salazar, the St. Louis firm building what will replace Foote Homes, and Archie Willis’ sister. She said developers and the city have learned important lessons from earlier public housing conversions that began in 1998 with Lemoyne Gardens redevelopment to College Park.

“We are focusing on the neighborhood as opposed to the site,” she said. “Previously the focus was on the public housing site, the transformation of that.”

Memphis Housing Authority interim executive director Maura Black Sullivan said the Foote Homes project will benefit from having an earlier conversion just across Lauderdale Street.

“We’ve learned with each one,” she said. “We’ve learned that if we can start housing on an off-site place before, that will allow us to bring some residents to the new housing that we create offsite. We can create some relocation right on sight.”

The new development where Foote Homes now stands will encompass about 700 units, compared to the current 400. It will be a mix of public housing residents, who pay subsidized rent; “affordable” units; and market-rate rental units.

The neighborhood as defined by the project plans extends beyond the Foote Homes’ boundaries.

Archie Willis, who also is a principal in the Central Station redevelopment in the South Main Historic Arts Distrct, sees all of those elements coming together as opposed to isolated pockets of development that happen to be in close proximity.

“The train station now is a barrier from what I call the very affluent west side of South Main to the less affluent east side of South Main,” he said. “The transformation of the train station … we think will bridge that gap and start connecting those two communities together.”

Roslyn Willis sees the development moving south as well.

“I think we’ll see things start to move toward Crump Boulevard,” she said. “There are all kinds of warehouses. They are kind of empty right now but I think that logically we are going to have creative younger people wanting to go there.”

Sullivan said it also includes the realization that more than half of the adults living in Foote Homes are unemployed, and 80 percent of those who are unemployed are single mothers.

“One of the things we’ve learned is we need to set people up for success,” she said. “And we’ve not always done that. The first projects that came to fruition, we didn’t see as many changes. In each one we’ve seen more statistical changes in crime and employment numbers.”

That means an early childhood center as well as a grocery store that would draw customers from the broader area.

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