VOL. 131 | NO. 73 | Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Young Cherishes Role of Rebuilding Memphis Neighborhoods
By Madeline Faber
“I don’t want to be viewed as the most powerful person in Memphis,” said Paul Young, a Memphis native who became director of Housing and Community Development for the city of Memphis in January.
Paul Young, director of the Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development, is finding ways to bring private investment back to areas of Memphis that need more investment.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Young flew under the radar during his career in government affairs, and now he’s taking over an influential post during a period of significant change.
Many called his predecessor, Robert Lipscomb, the most powerful person in Memphis. For a time, Lipscomb simultaneously worked as director of HCD, director of the Memphis Housing Authority and chief financial officer for the city of Memphis. In 2015, Lipscomb resigned from HCD and was suspended without pay from MHA amid statutory rape allegations.
Lipscomb left a 20-plus-year legacy defined by high-profile projects like Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid and the redevelopment of the Cleaborn Homes housing complex.
Lipscomb also laid the groundwork for the redevelopment of Foote Homes, a $60 million project now under Young’s reign as part of the larger South City footprint.
But Young, who most recently served as director of legislative affairs for Shelby County government, doesn’t want to just be known for the million-watt projects that made up Lipscomb’s term.
“He did a lot of things at the neighborhood level, but I don’t think they got much attention,” Young said. “We have to do the big things, but I want us to be known for the neighborhood projects as well.”
Young can trace his passion for neighborhood development back to his first year at the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Memphis, where an anthropology course focused on neighborhood redevelopment set off a spark.
“That class really brought home that this isn’t about physical development. It’s not about real estate and completing the deal. It’s about improving the lives of people,” he said. “From there I said, ‘OK I want to figure out how I can have a greater impact.’”
After completing his master’s degree in city and regional planning, Young headed to New York City to advocate nationally for community development organizations through his role at the Local Initiative Support Corp.
When he returned to Memphis, he worked as a financial analyst for Community Capital. At the time, president Archie Willis was working on the Hope VI financials for the redevelopment of public housing complex Dixie Homes. That effort mirrored what Young is trying to achieve with Foote Homes.
“I learned a lot about the players and the process to getting developments done, so it was a great training ground,” Young said.
From there, Young worked in Shelby County government as head of legislative affairs and administrator at the Office of Sustainability. He managed a $2.6 million grant for the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability plan and worked to piece together 151 recommendations as part of the Sustainable Shelby Plan.
Young believes his background in real estate, city planning, finance and governmental affairs helps him see the big picture of HCD’s role.
“Housing is just one piece of the puzzle,” he said. His goal is to leverage partnerships so that developments are seen as community projects rather than just HCD projects.
That spirit of collaboration carries over to Young’s funding strategy. His goal is to ensure that every HCD dollar is backed by additional private or philanthropic funding. Federal, state and city funding go toward building quality housing and bringing an area back from the development fringe. With an area more attractive to the private sector, other groups can bring in grocery stores and other amenities that make up a thriving neighborhood.
“I view our role as to figure out how to go into areas that the private market, for whatever reason, has not been investing in and figure out how to encourage that private-sector investment,” he said.
That strategy will play out in the South City target area, where public and private investment totals nearly $279 million, according to the Memphis Housing Authority.
Young’s goal is to relocate the residents of Foote Homes by the end of the summer. The 400 units in Memphis’ last traditional housing project will be demolished to make way for 712 public and market-rate units. The project is backed by a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Grant, one of the largest federal grants the city of Memphis has received.
Young’s grandmother was one of the first residents of Foote Homes, and his father grew up in the complex. This is personal; it’s Young’s first project in his new job, and he wants to do it right.
“There are advantages to having a mixed-income community, as opposed to an affordable housing community that essentially isolates poverty into a gated community,” he said. “But it’s challenging at the same time. These communities have social networks. So there are relationships they have with their space and the people around them that will be changed.”
Ultimately, Young says he ended up at his “dream job” as director of HCD.
“When I really focused on community development, across everything I’ve done, my whole goal was to have a dramatic impact on the city of Memphis. I think this is the job that has the most potential to do that.”