In the mid-1800s, Victorian Village housed the city's wealthiest families. But today, there are only five homeowners in the neighborhood. The rest of the residents are renters, many at Jefferson Square, a Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) property.
Those low-income renters soon will have an opportunity to train as Victorian Village ambassadors and lower their subsidized rent. Next spring, the Victorian Village Community Development Corporation (CDC) will hold classes to teach neighborhood history to Jefferson Square residents.
"Renters often don't feel like they have a stake in the neighborhood," says Scott Blake, the executive director of the Victorian Village CDC and one of the few homeowners in the neighborhood. "This plan will give renters a chance to become stakeholders, and we think that will give them a sense of pride."
Once trained, residents will canvas Victorian Village on foot during peak tourist hours, much like the Blue Suede Brigade does in downtown Memphis. They'll inform tourists about the history of homes such as the Woodruff Fontaine House and the Mallory-Neely House, both on Adams Avenue.
Inside Victorian Village — bordered by Danny Thomas, Poplar, Manassas, and Madison — there are 25 structures on the National Historic Register. The CDC has been making efforts in the past several years to revitalize the neighborhood, boost tourism in the area, and reduce crime.
"[The ambassadors will] also be equipped with radios to report suspicious activity," Blake says. "They'll be passive security, an extra pair of eyes on the street."
For each hour ambassadors work, they'll receive a voucher for $10. MHA residents already pay subsidized rent based on their income, but the vouchers will lower their monthly payments.
Currently, University of Memphis architecture professor Randall Witherington is teaching a class on the history of Victorian Village. His students will then teach a series of classes for the ambassadors, each at a different historical location.
The program will be funded by an $18,000 grant from the University of Memphis, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and the United Way of the Mid-South.
"We want to see if this works out with low-income renters because we think this is a program that could be applied all over the country," Blake says. "Every old neighborhood like ours has similar issues."