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VOL. 130 | NO. 189 | Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Last-Minute Negotiations Secure $30 Million Foote Homes Grant

By Bill Dries

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The Foote Homes public housing development is still standing with word Monday, Sept. 28, that the city of Memphis has secured a $30 million federal grant to convert it to a mixed-use, mixed-income development.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton announced a $29.7 million federal grant for the conversion of the Foote Homes public housing project into a mixed-use, mixed-income development as part of the larger South City redevelopment effort.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

But as the city moves ahead with private developers and investors on its conversion from 400 units of public housing to 712 units of housing – public and market value – for senior citizens and families the city will increasingly refer to it as South City.

Banners proclaiming the area South City and the slogan “people, place, parity, prosperity” went up Monday on the wrought iron fences that mark the soon to vanish boundaries of Foote Homes as Memphis Mayor A C Wharton made the formal announcement of the Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This is the plan – grocery stores, walking trails, medical facilities. This is not a ‘we’re getting ready to come up with something,’” Wharton said. “We don’t know the name of the grocery store or where it’s going to be. It is truly comprehensive and not just a wish.”

There were some anxious moments, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, who was the critical Washington connection in securing the grant.

At the end of August, Robert Lipscomb, the architect of the South City application as well as the conversion of the city’s other large housing projects over the last 17 years, resigned as the city’s Housing and Community Development director amid the city’s investigation of claims of sexual misconduct against him.

Lipscomb is on suspension with pay in his other role as executive director of the Memphis Housing Authority, and HUD has said he cannot be paid with any federal funds as they also investigate and audit the use of federal money.

“We knew there could be questions,” Cohen said as he detailed calling HUD Secretary Julian Castro. “We called him and assured him that there are yins and yangs to everything and that with losing Lipscomb we would not miss a beat.”

Private partners and developers Henry Turley and J.R. “Pitt” Hyde also upped their financial investments in the South City project, according to Cohen. No figures were disclosed.

Wharton said the HUD money will “catalyze” $279.6 million in private investment in the general area.

“Don’t get lost in the transition. We want (Foote Homes residents) back. We want a genuine neighborhood.”

–Rosalyn Willis
McCormack, Baron and Salazar

Turley, who is among the developers of the Central Station property to the west, said the goal is to make the larger area “all one neighborhood.”

The federal grant for Foote Homes is the last in a series of six totaling $208 million since the 1990s that have changed the face of Memphis public housing. Since the demolition of LeMoyne Gardens in the late 1990s, the city’s approach has evolved to include more programs and services to encourage displaced residents to return. In early conversions, many residents did not return.

But there remains opposition in the Vance Avenue among some who favor keeping Foote Homes as a renovated public housing development in an overhaul of the larger area. They criticize the plans as a gentrification of the area that will raise the cost of living there for the poor.

Rosalyn Willis of McCormack, Baron and Salazar, the developers of the housing component of the South City plan as well as previous conversions of other Memphis housing projects, said past disparities felt by public housing residents and some of the opposition is a “consequence of some of those decisions.”

“Don’t get lost in the transition,” she said to Foote Homes residents at Monday’s announcement. “We want you back. We want a genuine neighborhood.”

The grant is a big win for Wharton’s re-election bid. The two City Council members challenging him on the Oct. 8 ballot said the grant is good news for the city.

“Who could ever argue with that? That’s wonderful,” said Jim Strickland. “Robert Lipcomb has gotten funds to redo all the public housing units for the last 15 years. … That’s really good.”

Harold Collins also mentioned Lipscomb’s role.

“Robert Lipscomb’s legacy will be continued through his hard work for the city irregardless of what the accusations are that this administration has put forward against him,” he said. “We will find out whether he committed crimes later on. The work he’s done for this city, his sacrifice -- even in his absence demonstrates the kind of level of respect the federal government has for MHA and what he’s done with it.”

PROPERTY SALES 81 277 20,909
MORTGAGES 85 329 24,074
BUILDING PERMITS 219 672 43,265
BANKRUPTCIES 64 238 13,418