VOL. 131 | NO. 170 | Thursday, August 25, 2016
By Madeline Faber
Brand new sidewalks, streetlights and paved roads set the stage for Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in North Memphis, where nearly 1,500 volunteers have descended this week to build a subdivision from scratch.
Country music stars Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks take a quick break from building houses at Bearwater Park subdivision in North Memphis with Habitat for Humanity as part of the Carter Work Project.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Several years ago, the swath of land was overgrown and crime-ridden as the site of the razed Cedar Court apartment complex. It was one of the last frontiers for the northern development boundaries of Uptown, a neighborhood established by Henry Turley Co. for Memphians of low-to-moderate income.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis started focusing on the greater Uptown neighborhood in 2012, first performing home repairs, then building standalone homes and now acting as an architect for the 21-house Bearwater Park subdivision.
That earlier piece-by-piece work primed the area for the larger development located between Third and Seventh streets and south of Cedar Avenue, said Dwayne Spencer, CEO and president with Habitat for Humanity’s local Memphis chapter.
“What we saw when we would originally drop a house by itself, is sometimes it would be eaten up by the dilapidated units and vacant lots in the community,” he said. “If you do two or three or more, it starts to have this impact ripple of people wanting to improve their houses, spruce up the property and clean up their lots.”
With the attention of President Carter and the world-renowned Carter Work Project, development in Uptown has been greatly accelerated. The houses, which range up to two stories with multiple bedrooms, are sold without interest to low-income homeowners. The homeowners have to put in 350 hours of work in building the homes, often alongside Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. President Carter said that the intense construction effort strengthens the bonds of a neighborhood. When completed, Bearwater Park will have 35 homes as well as common green space and a community center.
Development in Uptown gets a boost as 500 volunteers have come together to build houses in the Bearwater Park subdivision.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“We go back to visit (a Carter Work Project site) sometimes 15 or 20 years after we’ve been there, and we’ve never seen a broken window or a lawn that wasn’t mowed or graffiti on the walls. People are very proud,” Carter said, adding that property values on the outskirts of a Carter Work Project site generally increase as well. “The people who live there built it themselves and paid for it themselves, and they’re very proud of the way they live, and they set an example for the people that live in that neighborhood.”
One of those future homeowners is Brandi Hunter, a multimedia specialist with New Direction Christian Church. Habitat for Humanity’s offering allows her to move out of her parents’ house into a home of her own with a mortgage payment that is nearly half the rent on a one-bedroom apartment, she said.
“I want to cut my own grass,” Hunter said. “I want to have that stability because I know I want to settle in Memphis, and this opportunity allows me to do that. I can own a home and invest in the city a lot sooner than I thought I would be able to under conventional circumstances.”
Habitat’s presence will continue to evolve as the neighborhood grows, according to Spencer. He has already hired a community development coordinator, which is a first for the organization, as well as a social worker. He will soon develop an Uptown strategic plan in coordination with area community members, stakeholders and developers to bring additional resources to the neighborhood.
With a handful of major developers now concentrating on Uptown, Henry Turley said his initial vision for the area could be reaching completion. Over the past 15 years, the Uptown neighborhood has benefited from $150 million in redevelopment efforts.
“If you could have seen Seventh Street 10 years ago, you just wouldn’t believe it compared to all of the energy going on,” Turley said.
Several partners have combined efforts in bringing Bearwater Park to success, with Oasis of Hope first breaking ground on the land with a few newly built homes. The faith-based nonprofit donated the land to Habitat for Humanity for the development. Turley said that hyper-attention from multiple groups and a momentum of development will make the Uptown neighborhood a stable choice for Memphians.
“Habitat gives people hope and options to improve the neighborhood and live relatively free of blight and crime,” he said.