Memphis has been called “the city of good abode” although some of its citizens would be hard pressed to agree.
Recently Mayor A C Wharton announced an end to homelessness in 10 years. A very difficult quest indeed. But Memphis also has some major problems in providing safe, decent and affordable housing to citizens who are not technically homeless but have severe burdens like the following –
* living with family or friends in tight confines after being evicted or foreclosed;
* unable to pay rent or mortgage regularly and subject to eviction/foreclosure (caused by predator loans, unemployment, family breakup, health costs, and /or low wages);
* paying affordable rent or mortgage for housing that is substandard and getting worse;
* living in a neighborhood beset by housing, environmental and social deterioration, which lacks adequate food, clothing and transportation services.
As reported elsewhere, homeless rates have declined in Memphis in recent years; and the emergency shelters, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing (for the disabled) are not operating over capacity on most days of the year. Some 30 plus agencies are providing relief to the homeless and are constantly improving their services and network.
Solving the homeless problem means solving the overall housing problem, which can be accomplished in 10 years and elevate the Memphis “good abode” brand to world famous status.
Robert Lipscomb, who heads up the Memphis Housing Authority and the Division of Housing and Community Development, has done a great job since the middle 1990s when he started transforming public rental housing and increasing the utilization rate for Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly known as Section 8 Vouchers), which allows low income households options for good private rental housing.
But Lipscomb needs the following to win the war on housing problems:
* an information system that provides real time data about the supply (quality and quantity) and citizens’ need (demand) for housing at specific locations;
* a comprehensive Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Plan that has specific performance measures in every neighborhood for an end game over the next 10 years.
* a closely knit network of non-profit and profit developers who know how to leverage public dollars to the maximum.
The Community Development Council is at the lead in creating a network of non-profit developers; and the CD Council’s Greater Memphis Neighborhoods: A Blueprint for Revitalization plan is a good starting point for mapping out the end game although the “implementation work program” should be compressed into a couple of years since it contains preliminary efforts for a detailed Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Plan.
The profit developers should be required to join the CD Council as a condition for receiving public support. This would include private developers who – (a) are involved in Hope VI projects; (b) receive Low Income Housing Tax Credits and/or tax free bonds; (c) participate in the “middle-income housing program”; (d) receive scattered tax foreclosed parcels from Shelby County government; and (e) receive project-based Section 8 guarantees.
This group of non-profit and profit developers should be recognized as the City’s main entity for preparing and implementing the Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Plan under the direction of the City. Other non-profit groups whose members provide economic and social adjustment services to low income households should be brought to the table; and every City agency (including the Memphis City Schools) should be required to coordinate their delivery of services with the Plan.
There is only person who can make all of this happen and that is the Mayor of Memphis.
The current mayor, A C Wharton, has the insight about what to do as evidenced by his “Creating a City of Choice” presentation to the Memphis City Council. He accurately sees the key players and their priorities, and he values good planning and action. He can provide the tools that Lipscomb needs. The time is ripe for success.