VOL. 132 | NO. 132 | Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Foote Homes Last Vestige Of Public Housing
By Bill Dries
As the last of the city’s large public housing developments is demolished, the oldest of the mixed-income communities that replaced them is about to turn 20.
College Park opened in 1998 on the site of what had been Lemoyne Gardens in the area of South Memphis now known as Soulsville.
And the Memphis Housing Authority is starting contract talks with developers for the next contract term.
Two decades after the transformation of public housing began, those leading the effort, including the Foote Homes demolition, say lessons have been learned since then and the transformation has worked.
“All of the ones I’ve been involved with, back to all of them except College Park, they remain highly occupied,” said Archie Willis, president of the real estate development firm ComCap LLC, on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”
“Most of them have waiting lists. And what’s really interesting is when you look at the initial marketing and lease-up, what happened was the market rate units rented up first,” he said. “No subsidies, they are just looking for the best opportunities. And the assisted folks followed.”
The mixed-income communities developed are a mix of market-rate units, affordable housing involving tax credits and public housing.
The transformation began during the tenure of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton with millions of dollars of federal funding under the HOPE VI program for what Herenton repeatedly termed “the end of public housing as we know it.”
“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
“We have transformed public housing,” said city Housing and Community Development director Paul Young. “It’s not a displacement of poor people, but we’re actually able to create a new mixed-income community.”
In the case of Foote Homes, that means a total of 712 housing units – apartment buildings mixed with free standing single-family homes and senior citizen housing – to be built once demolition is completed.
Foote Homes was built in the 1950s on the other side of Lauderdale from Cleaborn Homes, another public housing development. Foote and Cleaborn were the mirror image of each other, with Foote having 980 units before being downsized to 420 units in the 1990s.
Of the 712 units to be built where Foote now stands fenced off and boarded up, 480 of the units will be affordable or public housing.
“We’re actually creating more affordable housing than currently exists there today,” Young said.
The concentration of public housing at a time when such housing was racially segregated by law became a concentration of poverty, Young says.
MHA executive director Marcia Lewis said public housing went from a stated goal of being transitional housing to becoming generational.
“I don’t want to push all of my people to one part of town so all of a sudden I’ve reconcentrated poverty into another area,” she said. “There are areas that are becoming revitalized and are doing more home ownership. We want everybody to have opportunities.”
Complicating the relocation of Foote Homes families last year was the shut down of two federally subsidized apartment complexes in Whitehaven owned by Global Ministries Foundation. The federal government cut off rent subsidies all of those residents relied on after both complexes failed federal inspections.
“We had a lot of people who were looking for housing at the same time,” Young said. “On top of that, Foote homes was the last traditional housing development in the city. As families had moved from other locations, many of them ended up moving to Foote Homes. They were those who had a more difficult time finding homes in the private market.”
Some Foote Homes residents could have lived elsewhere but remained in public housing because they were comfortable there. The MHA organized tours of private rental housing for them and had property managers meet with them.
“It took a lot of case management. We had to wrap around the residents,” Lewis said. “Because there were so many who had transitioned from one to another, there were some who had lived in three other public housing developments. There were people who had some financial issues. There were people who had some issues owing utility money. We worked with (Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division) to assist those families. … It was a tough process.”
Meanwhile, case managers continue to meet with the relocated residents of Foote Homes at five community centers across the city.
All of this was set in motion late in 2016 when the city secured $30 million in federal funding toward the end of Mayor A C Wharton’s administration under the federal Choice Neighborhoods program. The city is matching that funding with another $30 million.
Willis says there are some important differences from the HOPE VI funding.
“The biggest difference between HOPE VI and Choice is they added what they call a neighborhood component,” Willis said. “Neighborhood provides an opportunity to actually go outside the boundaries of the traditional public housing site and try to have a positive impact on the surrounding community.”
The South City redevelopment area is much bigger than just Foote Home or Cleaborn Homes. And the private investment Willis is working to leverage includes plans for an early education center, a Girls Inc. center and a grocery store.
“There are two private developers that are not part of the Choice Neighborhood team that are developing housing as we speak in the South City area,” he said. “I think those folks that understand the market and understand the potential of the market that this is obviously a depressed community today. But in 2021, we will have spent a tremendous amount of money redoing housing that should also create opportunities for other developers and other private investors to get involved in the neighborhood to do commercial development and do additional housing that’s not necessarily subsidized by the housing authority.”