The End of Public Housing in Memphis

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Robert Lipscomb
  • Robert Lipscomb
Memphis is at the beginning of the end of the housing projects that warehoused tens of thousands of poor people on the fringe of downtown for some 60 years.

In April, the boarded up two-story brick units that once housed more than 2000 residents of Cleaborn Homes will be demolished. That will leave neighboring Foote Homes, which has lower-density but is of the same vintage and design, as the last of the housing projects built in the 1940s.

Cleaborn Homes
  • Cleaborn Homes
Washington D.C. and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have noticed what is happening in Memphis. On Friday, Ed Jennings Jr., HUD's regional administrator for our part of the world, came to Foote Homes to announce a $250,000 grant to the Vance Avenue Neighborhood, which is just a few blocks southeast of FedEx Forum. The grant will be administered by the Memphis Housing Authority, MIFA, and the University of Memphis.

With its problems of crime, education, and public health, "this ZIP Code (38126) is the most challenging in the community," said Jennings.

The broader message was to praise the work Memphis has done under the leadership of Housing and Community Development director and MHA executive director Robert Lipscomb and partners to use over $100 million in federal "HOPE VI" funds plus $200 million in private capital to replace housing projects with modern mixed-income communities such as College Park, Legends Park, and Uptown.

"All I can say is Thank God for HOPE VI," said Lipscomb, noting that MHA was being threatened with a federal takeover 20 years ago. He said it has taken about 12 years to dismantle public housing, which took some 50 years to build, populate, and depopulate. Former residents have been dispersed throughout the city and county. And while crime and the problems of 38126 have followed them, there is general agreement that the city is better off than it was. Mayor A C Wharton and MHA board chairman Ricky Wilkins were among those praising Lipscomb's leadership.

Lipscomb said when the Cleaborn Homes is demolished he hopes Memphis "will eliminate public housing from our vocabulary."

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