Behind the Headlines – June 29, 2017

Behind the Headlines – June 29, 2017


– (female narrator)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like
you, thank you. – The transformation of
public housing in Memphis, tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Paul Young, Director of Memphis Housing
and Community Development, thanks for being here again. – Thanks for having me. – Marcia Lewis heads
Memphis Housing Authority, thank you for being here. – Thank you. – Archie Willis heads ComCap, thanks for being here. – Thank you. – Along with Bill
Drees, senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. So the last of the really the
big public housing projects, the legacy projects, there were 10 or
11, I forget which, is about to be
demolished, Foote Homes. And for each of you, you’ve all been involved
in various aspects of this. But I’ll start with you, Marcia. What does it mean? Why is this important
that this last one is about to be,
not just torn down, but transformed into whole
different style of housing and how people live? – Well first of all,
it’s very historical. It’s a historical
event given the the history behind Foote Homes, the last traditional
public housing development. It is one of the
oldest in the nation. And then it is kind of a not the finish but the
continuation of a vision that’s changed the landscape
of the city of Memphis where obsolete public
housing has been replaced with housing of choice
and housing of quality. – And just some
specifics for people. How many people lived in
Foote Homes at its peak? – At its peak there was
980 units I believe. And back in the ’90s I
think it was renovated and reduced to 420 units. And so that’s what
is there today. – And we’ll talk
more about the people and the transitions and so on. But for you, Paul, your take on this. I mean your take,
this is a milestone? Or this is just one more step? – This is significant because, well first of all it’s
personally significant to me. My grandmother moved
to Foote Homes in 1942. My dad grew up there. So I have a personal
connection to the site. But for the city of Memphis, I think it’s significant because as Marcia said, it is the last traditional public
housing development. We have transformed
public housing and I think the
significant point is that it’s not a displacement
of poor people but we’re actually
able to create a new mixed income community. So there are 420
units there today. There’ll be 712 when
the project is complete. There will be 480
affordable housing units. So we’re actually creating
more affordable housing than currently
exists there today but we’re creating
it in an environment that’s much more vibrant, much more lively, and will be a great
asset to our community. – So people understand maybe
have seen some of the other developments near, there’s one near
Methodist Le Bonheur, there’s one right off the
highway near in midtown. And there’s Cleaborn Homes, now Cleaborn Landing,
do I have that correct? That is next to Foote Homes. – Cleaborn Pointe.
– Cleaborn Pointe, thank you. – Which are aesthetically,
I mean if you drive by, they’re really very attractive. But define what the
transformation is with the changes in
terms of how is… In old public housing,
let me go back to Marcia. In the old public housing,
how did it work financially? And how does it work
in the new model? – Well in the old
public housing, all of the units
were under a model of extremely low income,
income limits. And they were all funded as public housing or
traditional public housing. – So I would pay, if
I’d met the income, I would pay nothing
or very little. – You would pay 30% of your rent or a minimum rent of $50. And the change with the
renovations and transformations has been mixed income
communities as Paul said where we have a combination
of public housing units, a combination of
tax credit units, which is still affordable
but a higher income limit, and requires people to work, and then market rate units. – Meaning just whatever
you can get for it. – (Marcia)
Whatever the rent there is. – And why is that so important? Why is that mixed income, ’cause that’s what’s
key to this, right. Why is that important? – I think it’s important because the challenges we’ve seen
when you concentrate poverty and this is not something
that we’ve dealt with just in Memphis. It’s across the nation. When you concentrate poverty, it somewhat limits
the opportunities for those that live
in those situations. And when you’re able to
expand the pool of the people that live in the
neighborhood in a community, you’re creating a
new social fabric. You’re creating social networks, social capital, for all of those families
to be able to connect and be able to thrive. It’s very similar to how
neighborhoods in Memphis were in the 1950s and ’60s. In South Memphis you
had doctors and lawyers living next door to
teachers and janitors. And you know it created
a vibrant community. And we want to be able
to create the same thing in our neighborhoods
throughout the city. – And Archie, you’ve
been involved in almost all of them
back to the ’90s. Is that correct? These have happened
in part federal money, not a lot of city
money, I guess some. But without getting
bogged down in the details, these were largely
federal programs. You’ve brought in
your private business and brought in private
capital to work on this. How is it changed? How from the first one that
you worked on to this one, what you have learned and how
is this whole process changed? – I think one of the most
significant changes is our, and our being the
greater communities, our awareness of the
plight of the residents and how we can best serve
their needs and interests. It’s more than just
providing them housing. it’s providing them as Paul said and Marcia said opportunities. So I think we’ve learned
how to do that better. I think even in this case
we’re much more intentional about trying to do as
much as we possibly can to ensure that the former
residents and new residents and the neighboring
residents have as many opportunities to live
in a thriving neighborhood as possible. – (Eric)
Yeah, Bill. – Paul, at the outset
of this there were certainly some challenges
in terms of finding transitional housing or housing for the residents
on the long term basis as they moved out. How has that progressed up to this date? – So I’ll let Marcia
also chime in on this. But during the relocation
period there were some big challenges
that hit the city. Obviously Warren
and Tulane happened at about the same time
as all of the residents were moving out of Foote Homes. So we had about 800 families that were in the market
looking for housing units at the same time. So it was a little
bit more challenging to get all of the individuals
and the families placed. – Warren and Tulane,
– Sorry. – define what that
was for people who… – Warren and Tulane apartments
are two apartment complexes both located in Whitehaven that were closed
down by the federal, well they weren’t closed down, but the federal
government stopped paying the property owner because
of the conditions of the units. And so they provided vouchers
for all of those families that lived in those
developments to be able to move, which was great for those
families to be able to improve their circumstances
in which they lived but it created a big challenge because we had a lot of people
that were looking for housing units at the same time. And you couple on top of that that Foote Homes was
the last traditional public housing
development in the city and as families had moved
from other locations, many of them end up
moving to Foote Homes and so they were those that had a more difficult time finding units in
the private market. – So Marcia, how
did this work out? What was the solution
to all of a sudden a lot of people from? – It took a lot of
case management. We had to wrap
around the residents. And by that I mean because there were so many who had transitioned
from one to another. There were some who had
lived in three other public housing developments and were there because they
did not feel comfortable going outside of public housing. And so we provided
everything from tours. We created tours for them. We actually had a, normally we have briefing
sessions and housing fairs where they come to
our office and meet and learn about
other properties. We actually had the
properties come on site. We created transportation
opportunities for people to go look. It took a lot. There were people who had
some financial issues. There were people who had some
issues owing utility money. We had to work with MLGW
to assist those families. So, we really had to
wrap around them and it was a tough process. But I think that they are being served and they’re
still being provided case management even
as they have relocated throughout the city. They’ve created modules
or nodes they call them where our case
managers can still, at the various libraries in
five different locations, can still work with the
residents that are out there. – Because this is a transition
not to public housing as we knew it. This is subsidized
housing in effect that is owned by
private companies and they accept the vouchers. – (Marcia)
Exactly. – Archie, South City
is a much bigger area and we’ve talked a lot
about mixed income. But this is also mixed use. So what does the market
for commercial development, the market for private
residential development, what’s been their reception
to this larger area that’s opened up? – Let me kind of preface
my answer by saying you know this is a Choice
Neighborhoods grant which is different from Hope VI. All of the other
developments were Hope VI. The biggest difference
in Hope VI and Choice is they added what they call
the neighborhood component. They had housing and they
had the people component that Marcia just spoke of in terms of case
management process. So 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. So in our neighborhood plan, we’re looking at
potential opportunities in terms of early
education center. We’re talking with
Girls Incorporated about a Girls
Incorporated center. The dream and great
ambition is a grocery store that we’re working on. Other neighborhood amenities
and neighborhood improvements. So to get to your question, that component hopefully will
facilitate some additional commercial development and
additional private development. The actual Choice Neighborhood
boundaries are far greater than the Foote Homes site. So there will be
other opportunities. In fact, there are two private developers that are not a part of the
Choice Neighborhoods teams that are developing
housing as we speak in the South City neighborhood. So I think for those folks
that understand the market and understand the
potential of the market that this is obviously a
depressed community today but in like 2021 we will spend 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 through the housing authority. – And we should
also point out that when we talked
about Cleaborn Pointe, Cleaborn Homes was
directly across Lauderdale from Foote Homes just to
set the stage for this. Unless you knew you were
in a Foote or Cleaborn, if you just drove through
you really wouldn’t know the difference
because they were laid out in a similar fashion. The same kind of
brick buildings. Well now that that’s changed, so directly across Lauderdale
there’s Cleaborn Pointe which looks
completely different. There’s a whole
lot going in around Foote Homes, the proper site there for it. So the private
development that you’ve seen has that been
a result of what the transformation of Cleaborn? – I think so, I think so. And of course,
geographically we are literally on the southern edge of downtown and on the eastern
edge of the South Main historic and arts districts. So, there’s already
some potential connectivity to a very
vibrant south end of downtown. So I think it’s a combination
of a lot of factors and if you talk to a lot
of private developers, they would tell you
that the public housing all around downtown, Foote Homes, Cleaborn Homes, Hurt Village, Lauderdale Courts, Dixie Homes. All of these were
somewhat impediments to additional development
on the core of, I mean around the
core of downtown. So these things are coming
together at the right time. There’s a lot of
private sector interest. We still think we can and
we will certainly work and endeavor to ensure
that the neighborhood is transformed but still
provides opportunities for people of all incomes. And as Paul said earlier, the whole model of mixed income is what we’re trying to achieve. And I actually grew up, spent most of my childhood
two blocks south of the south city boundary. And as Paul also said, my dad was a lawyer. We lived next door
and around the corner and went to school
with all kinds of folks with different social
economic backgrounds. So it was a thriving
neighborhood. And for various reasons, you know the neighborhoods,
people moved out, and neighborhoods
changed and transformed in a negative way. So we’re really trying to
bring back that vitality that a mixed income community, with private sector development, partnered with public sector
involvement can create. – To what extent, maybe I’ll start
with you Marcia. When you talk about
public housing. The vouchers or you know the
traditional public housing, is it meant to be a transition? Or is public housing
meant to be… I mean is it people who
they’re always gonna be on public housing, they’re always gonna
need public assistance? I mean you could say this. It’s an ongoing national
debate about welfare, about food stamps, about all these things
of public assistance. And is it something
that people who are permanently stuck in that state? Or are they moving to a place where they are self sufficient? – Well it was never intended
to be permanent housing. It was intended to be
transitional housing that would help people
to bring themselves up and to move on and to
become self sufficient. That term is used a
lot in my industry where we provide escrow
accounts for residents. We provide opportunities
through family self sufficiency programs. We have grants that
work with households to help them become
self sufficient so that others who have
need can have opportunity to have that subsidy
or have those vouchers. But it became generational. It became cycles. – Generational, I mean
where you had people who had children, the
children grow up, they have children and
they’re constantly living with public assistance in these what were increasingly rundown
public housing projects. – That’s right. And you know for many reasons because of the transitions
that people made as they progressed and their income levels rose or because of the fact
that funding continually decreased, decreased,
decreased, decreased, for the upkeep and maintenance
and modernization of those. You know when public
housing was first built, it was not intended to provide luxury housing. There were things
you couldn’t do. You couldn’t have
mini-blinds in a unit. You couldn’t have a
ceiling fan in a unit. It was made in a way
that was intended to provide a shelter, a roof,
at the least expense. – They also, I’m gonna
turn to you Paul, the housing projects, and
this is a national phenomenon, this is not, I don’t think
anything about this is particularly unique to Memphis. It was all came out
of the ’40s and ’50s and government
policy some would say trying to help the poor. But there was also,
we have to say it, there’s also a racial
component to it, right? I mean these were places that that area that South City area was at one time a middle
and upper middle class, primarily African American, in some cases very
affluent neighborhood in which was put, a lot was torn down, and they created these
kind of walled off public housing projects,
primarily for black people. That history, that legacy,
when you think about that, I mean how has that
shaped the city? Because all those
projects were essentially for African Americans, they were populated
by African Americans. – Well I think
they were actually, I think Lauderdale Courts
actually was for Whites. – But explicitly.
– Explicitly. – Yeah, I mean we kind of forget it wasn’t that long ago
that you could do that. I mean it’s just,
you know what I mean? It’s really, where it would
be stated government policy. This one’s for the White
people and this one’s for the Black people. – I think that it’s, there’s an extensive
history that goes along with public housing and its
connection with race. And I think one of the
things that we have to take into consideration is that for a while there’s
been stagnant growth in the families that have
lived in public housing. And we have to, we as
government officials, have to figure out
why has that been? And I think that’s part of
what Choice Neighborhoods is about. What can we do to transform the
way we offer public housing. Are we providing
enough opportunities for the families that live here or are we just warehousing them? And I think that is what
we are trying to do. To your question about how
do we respect that history. There was a lot of articles and a lot of history
that’s been written about the South City area. There was one recently
about a year ago, Memphis Burning that
Preston Lauterbach wrote, and he really talked about how as you said there
were mansions there and because of this
explosive growth in African Americans
in the city at the time there was a desire to
figure out how you can get more units for African Americans in one consolidated location and there rose Cleaborn
Homes and Foote Homes. And so they built 1,800
units of public housing in an area that was very
nice for African Americans. So they tore all
that nice stuff down and built these housing units. But what we want to do
is make sure we respect that history of the African
American culture in that area. We have projects
around Heritage Trail where we’re working with
the Civil Rights Museum and a number of
other stakeholders to figure out how we
can respect that history and restore the
greatness of that area. – (Eric)
Yeah, Bill. – So Marcia, from covering some of your
predecessors at the MHA, Lawrence Wade, Jerome Ryans, I know that they had
this housing stock of large public
housing developments that basically we stopped
building in the ’50s. But they still had
to maintain them. And a 30 year old
housing project has a lot of maintenance
needs for that. So we’ve got Foote Homes left, it’s about to come down. But you’re still in the
public housing business with high rises
for senior citizens with other smaller site
developments on that. Is development the overwhelming need and
obstacle that it once was in that kind of public housing? – It really is. We receive a couple of
major pots of money. I’ve mentioned the
operating funds. We also receive capital funds. There is something
like a $24 billion deficiency in the
amount of capital funds for public housing nation wide. So obviously, as
the needs arise, you know we have major
modernization projects going on in our high-rise buildings. Our elevators. You know we don’t
get enough money to do what we need to do. And from what we’re hearing,
we may get even less. So it becomes a prioritization. We have to determine
how best we can do more with less. I’m about to bring someone
in to do some performance on our stock to see if we should
move in a direction called Rental
Assistance Demonstration or RAD for short, where we basically convert
public housing to vouchers. Because if we put together
the money that we get from the public housing
side of the house at HUD and then with the
rents and some of the adjustments for the market, we can possibly get more
per unit for the voucher and it allows us to be able
to leverage our property so we can get loans. We can’t do that
with public housing. – So about how many units, after Foote Homes, well it’s not occupied now. About how many
units do you manage separate from the vouchers? – There’s another 2,500
public housing units. – And about how many people
in Memphis are getting a voucher and somehow
housing assistance? – We have almost 8,000. – Almost 8,000 total. – Vouchers.
– Vouchers, 8,000 vouchers. – Do you worry in terms
of placing people. I mean people talk about well you get vouchers
and you get apartments that will take the vouchers and then suddenly
you’ve moved back to Paul’s comment
about warehousing. You’re now warehousing people in the kind of apartment
place that takes vouchers and so you’re back to almost
what you were trying to get away from? If the voucher program
is in part trying to get people, mainstream them, get them into
regular apartments, do you worry that it
just shifts that burden or shifts that warehousing to
private places with vouchers? – Well I think the one good
thing that’s happening, we’re all part of
different groups, different conversations, where we are working together
in a consolidated effort to look at what we’re
doing in housing in Memphis and in Shelby County. And I think that’s
the difference. Because I don’t want to
push all of my people to one part of town so all of a sudden I’ve
re-concentrated poverty into another area. There are areas that
are becoming revitalized and are doing more
home ownership. You know, we want everybody
to have opportunity. And so by having
these conversations, by being very
intentional about how we, plus HUD has become far more diligent about watching and being a part of the conversation about where people
are relocated to, what are the demographics
around those areas what is the crime
rate in those areas, what are educational
opportunities. So there’s a lot
more conversation and intentional activity
where we put people. – We just have a
couple minutes left. Of the previous changed housing projects into these mixed income areas, have they been successful? Paul maybe, do you look at
the data and say it’s working? I mean and what
metrics do you look at to see whether or
not it is working? We can look at it and
say it looks a lot nicer. But is it working for
the people who live there and used to live there? – So I’ll let Archie and
Marcia also chime in on that particular question. But I think that it’s working
from the perspective of the units are occupied. And the families that
live there appreciate having high quality units. – What about crime? Crime, you mentioned crime. Is that, when you look at
the transformed neighborhoods versus the old ones, the old ones tended to be
pretty high crime rates. Is that changed? – You know, it has
changed to an extent. But because of the issues
with crime nation-wide, we see a
resurgence a little bit. So that’s a conversation
we’re actually having right now, again. – Your thoughts, is it working? – I would say from the
standpoint of providing people with opportunities, yes. You look at the
other developments, they’re mixed income. All the ones that I’ve
been involved with, which is actually all of
them except College Park, they remain highly occupied. 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. So we got people that… – (Eric)
Market rate being the people who are not getting any subsidy? – No subsidy, they’re just
looking for the best opportunity for themselves. They rented up first and
the assisted folks followed. So we created mixed income. Things like crime,
as Marcia said, that’s obviously another
whole conversation. – And we’ve run out of time. We will talk about that. And I’m sorry to cut you off but we’ve run out of time. Thank you all, I could have talked about
this for another 25 minutes. We are out of time,
thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music]

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