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VOL. 131 | NO. 21 | Friday, January 29, 2016

Highland Heights CDC Rehabs Five More Homes

By Bill Dries

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On his desk at Treadwell Middle School, Jared Myers keeps a colorful map marked by green, red and blue shapes.

The map shows the territory of the fledgling Heights Community Development Corp., where Myers is executive director. Green rectangles represent vacant lots while blue rectangles stand for vacant structures. Red dots represent “larceny locations” – places where there has been a property crime. And there’s a lot of overlap.

Those overlapping areas are the priority for the organization that’s working to spread its wings from an incubation period with the more experienced Binghampton Development Corp.

The Heights covers four U.S. Census tracts in what is generally known as the Highland Heights area – north of Summer Avenue, south of Jackson Avenue, including Mitchell Heights and Brinkley Heights as well as Nutbush, Wells Station and Grahamwood.

“You take away some of those vacancies, you will see the crime start to go down in those neighborhoods as well,” Myers said.

With a $166,280 grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency announced Wednesday, Jan. 27, Myers and his organization will buy and rehab five empty houses that the CDC will then rent to residents earning less than half of the area’s median income. With the exception of one on Highland Avenue, the others are in overlapped areas.

The rent revenue will feed back into the organization’s future projects.

“We are especially pleased to see these funds used not only to help individual families but to create an ongoing source of revenue for the new development district, so that good works can multiply in the Highland Heights community,” THDA executive director Ralph Perrey said in a written statement.

The rehab work in the homes is a partnership between Christ Community Church and the Heights Coalition, which is a companion nonprofit organization to the CDC.

“People are buying these houses, but they are really not putting in the rehab that needs to be done to them,” Myers said. “That’s why it’s important for a CDC to be established to do that and also acquire properties here locally and have a good landlord in place. We also want to work toward home ownership. It’s not just about maintaining rental properties for low-income families.”

Binghampton CDC applied for the grant on behalf of the Heights. Its own track record of 94 properties including two apartment buildings went a long way in winning the grant.

That included collaboration between the Binghampton and Heights CDCs on six other recent home rehabs in the area. The Heights CDC is five years old, and Myers has been leading it for about 18 months.

“Once they saw we could provide quality housing for families of low income they realized maybe we can give them another shot at it,” Myers said.

The area is not a historic district. The housing stock is predominantly tw-bedroom, one-bathroom homes built in the 1950s and 1960s. And one in five parcels is vacant – either a lot or an empty house – according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

“The positive things are there are a lot of vacant homes with low acquisition and the market is really good right now to acquire homes,” Myers said. “It’s just there aren’t a lot of people who are willing to invest the amount of money needed to bring them where they should be.”

CDCs look at properties in a different way than homeowners or investors. They are looking for blocks that can be transformed or momentum that can be built with some strategic rehabs that bring the necessary stability to interest others in going further.

Myers would like to take on five homes on the same block and has found groupings like that owned by the same investor.

“But they want way too much for them at that point,” he said. “If we’re able to offer them a price per square foot for that property, we could do a block. We could turn around a whole block with a grant like this. If all five of those homes are on the same block it would make a huge statement to the neighborhood.

“Our strategy now is scattering them to get buy-in from the community and buy-in from the residents and kind of get the low-hanging fruit that will allow us to get established.”

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159