On a sweltering June afternoon, only a handful of Cleaborn Homes residents are visible outside the brick, barrack-style apartment buildings that make up one of the last public housing projects in the city.
Although Cleaborn is home to about 400 families currently, the gated housing project near Vance and Lauderdale already looks like a ghost town. In the next few months, it will become a ghost town as the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) relocates all the families into temporary housing.
Once relocated, the 450 units at the 50-year-old site will be demolished and the land redeveloped using $22 million in federal Hope VI funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The project is part of Triangle Noir, a plan to transform the area around FedExForum.
"We'll be rebuilding 420 units, but only about one-third of those will be public housing," said Robert Lipscomb, director of the MHA. "That's to make sure that when people get up in the morning, they see people from different income groups going to work. You want to create diversity."
The other rental units will be a mix of market-rate and low-income housing. MHA hopes to build for-sale houses as well, but Lipscomb said that will depend on the housing market.
After Cleaborn Homes is cleared, nearby Foote Homes on Vance will be the only public housing project left in the city. So where will all those people go?
"People think that when we tear down distressed public housing, we loose all these people on the whole community," Lipscomb said. "But that perception needs to be corrected. We don't just toss people out. We'll find a place for those people to stay before they even leave, either through vouchers or other public housing."
Each family at Cleaborn qualifies for a HUD voucher, and Lipscomb says many of the residents may find a better place to live.
"A lot of them won't want to come back once they leave," Lipscomb said. "If I leave Cleaborn and get a Section 8 voucher to move into a house with a yard, am I coming back? No. I'm in a new neighborhood with kids in the school. I'm also working, because the caseworker assigned to me got me a job. That's the American dream."
Lipscomb does point out, however, that the voucher only offers a set amount for rent, so people are still limited to low-income neighborhoods.
Over the years, MHA has used Hope VI money to redevelop other public housing projects, such as Dixie Homes, Lamar Terrace, and Hurt Village. After Cleaborn is cleared, the city hopes to tackle Foote Homes.
Lipscomb thinks the Triangle Noir area will eventually flourish like Uptown did after its redevelopment several years ago.
"If we tackle the bad things, it will start attracting investment," Lipscomb said. "At least we hope so."