Frayser Community Development Corporation Executive Director Steve Lockwood shares how his staff works to improve housing in the community.
This is the first in a series of stories featuring panelists at the June 13 “What Smart Neighborhoods Can Learn From Frayser” event held at Pursuit of God Transformation Center at 3171 Signal St. in Frayser.
As the Executive Director of Frayser Community Development Corporation, Steve Lockwood is one of many community leaders working to better Frayser.
What is your profession?
I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit housing development corporation for the Frayser community. We buy blighted houses, fix them and then rent or sell them in an effort to improve Frayser. Additionally, we offer various free counseling services – Home Buyer Education, Foreclosure Prevention and Financial Literacy.
What brought you to the Frayser CDC?
I saw an opportunity to assist this community. The forces that allow neighborhoods to decline are powerful and complex. It is never a fair fight. I felt strongly that with a professional organization to work and advocate for Frayser, progress could be made.
What are the challenges for housing in Frayser?
Frayser was Ground Zero for predatory lending prior to the collapse of the mortgage market in 2007. Consequently, Frayser has suffered more housing foreclosures and bankruptcies than any community in Tennessee over the last 15 years. This has resulted in a lot of empty and blighted homes, and a resultant drop in home values.
Accompanying this has been banking regulations and policies that have made it very difficult for new low-income buyers to purchase homes. Consequently, the owners that lost homes to foreclosure in recent years have been replaced by investors, many of them from out of state, that do not have the interests of Frayser at heart.
How are you working to overcome those challenges?
We have developed a strategy of investing our efforts and funds in “swing” areas in Frayser that have blighted homes, but that can be brought back to health. We have found that, with the resources we have available, we can invest in these areas and that other investors will follow us in to acquire and renovate homes. While this often does not result in new home owners, it does reduce empty and blighted homes. Further, we have found that working in a concentrated area like this dramatically reduces crime and results in increased property values for the area – a benefit both to property owners and to the City and County tax base.
We have also worked to find banks that are willing and able to make low-cost loans to homeowners in Frayser. We have made some progress in this area. However, after years of inactivity, both buyers and real estate agents are unaware that low-income residents can actually get loans and buy homes affordably. Consequently, we are initiating a campaign to raise awareness of the availability and affordability of homes in Frayser.
What makes Frayser so special to you?
Frayser is beautiful, it is located near Downtown. Frayser is full of good, hardworking people who deserve a good, safe place to live.
It is critical that Frayser be helped to become a healthier community. Frayser is a “canary in the coalmine.” As goes Frayser, so goes Raleigh, Bartlett, Whitehaven and other communities.
What are your biggest concerns for Frayser?
I think housing can be improved in Frayser, and I believe we can get the word out that it is a great place to buy – especially for low-income working families. However, it is critical that we make progress in improving our schools and that problems of crime be addressed.
Additionally, it is critical that all of those who are working to improve Frayser support each other and celebrate each other’s successes. Low-income communities have a long history of “fighting over scraps.”
How do you see the community overcoming those concerns?
There is a groundswell of activity in Frayser that is addressing these concerns. Educational reform is not easy – but Frayser is in the midst of a tremendous effort to turn around failing schools. Residents and police work daily to address issues of crime and gangs. I do believe that, in addition to effective community policing, the greatest way to combat crime is to make jobs and employment services available to the hardest to employ people in Frayser, allowing them an alternative path.
We have made progress in attracting job training and job counseling services to the Frayser community and now need to get the word out that services are available.
What do you wish Memphians understood about Frayser?
Memphians understand that Frayser is beautiful and near Downtown. They also have the perception that schools are inadequate and that crime rates are unacceptable.
I think Memphians would be surprised just how affordable really attractive homes are in the community. Beautiful, renovated homes can be purchased for less per month than the cost of a mediocre apartment.
What can smart neighborhoods learn from Frayser?
It can be done – neighborhood decline can be turned around. We have found that, if you fix empty homes and make them nice people will want to live there. We have found that, if you eliminate empty and blighted houses crime rates will go down, quality of life will go up, and home values will rebound.
We have found that neighborhoods like Frayser – and this would include other areas in Memphis such as Whitehaven, Nutbush, Hickory Hill, etc. – are a good investment for the city, county and state. If they invest in Frayser, values and tax revenues will go up.
“What Smart Neighborhoods Can Learn From Frayser” will be held Monday, June 13, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Pursuit of God Transformation Center, 3171 Signal St. in Frayser. The free panel discussion will include community leaders discussing important issues for Frayser. Refreshments will be provided at 5:30 p.m. To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/what-smart-neighborhoods-can-learn-from-frayser-tickets-25703786718.