North Memphis

Promise CDC builds homes, community, and investment in North Memphis

Fed up with living in an apartment suffering from constant plumbing issues, Eunice Phillips knew it was time for a change. Wherever she moved, she knew she needed safe, adequate, and affordable space for her family. 

While looking at homes in North Memphis, Phillips met someone who was renting a home from Promise Community Development Corporation. Phillips learned the CDC offered opportunities to rent or buy homes that it both built and managed. The homes were newer with no maintenance issues like the older homes she'd rented, and the rental rate was in her budget.

It took 30 minutes to fill out the application. She she was approved just five days later.

“I was definitely trying to find something that would be in my price range and liveable, and they exceeded my expectations,” said Phillips, a native Memphian. “I love the house.”

In October, Phillips moved into a spacious four-bedroom, two-bath, single-family home with her 18 year-old daughter and 7 year-old son. Located in the Uptown-Bickford area of North Memphis, the home was built in 2012 but still looks brand new.

“We have more space than we were expecting to get. My kids love it,” said Phillips. “The street I live on is a very quiet street. Most of the residents know each other very well."

Phillips also loves the convenience.

“Midtown has the grocery stores and downtown has a lot of attractions. You can literally walk Downtown. I’m not too far from anything,” she said.

She is currently renting, but Phillips plans to buy a home from Promise CDC within a year.

Promise CDC's executive director, Cornelius Sanders, said the best part of the job is watching the smiles stretch wide across the faces of families as they prepare to enter their new home.

“When the [moving] truck shows up and you give them the key and they open the door for the very first time, there’s something very magnetic about that,” he said.

Building Neighborhoods

Sanders explained that when people move to an new area, they have needs beyond housing. 

Promise CDC also works on commercial development to give new and existing North Memphis residents places to live, shop, play, and work. Their four focus areas are housing, education, workforce development, and business development.

“Kids will be able to grow up and live in one place and be stable,” Sanders said. “That means that they also go to one school versus four different schools in a year. Learning takes place, families begin to be families and the community begins to be community."

Promise CDC began in 2000 as North Memphis CDC who two North Memphis residents grew increasingly concerned about the disinvestment in their community and decided to found a formal organization to reinvest.
Cornelius Sander, executive director of Promise CDC. (Dewon Hall)
Sanders joined North Memphis CDC in 2004, which rebranded as Promise CDC in 2014 when they began to work in other areas of Shelby County and in Tipton and Lauderdale counties.

To-date, they've built 30 houses in North Memphis, most of which are three-bedroom, two-bath. Only 2% of the CDC's current occupants are homeowners. It plans to promote homeownership among current renters at neighborhood events.

The organization is now building 10 new houses, as well as commercial space that includes two rehabilitation centers, in Bickford. Sanders expects that work to be completed by April. A grand opening will celebrate new houses on T.M. Henderson Avenue.

The CDC is also developing a property in Brighton, TN.

"Real estate is a part of what we do, but we do community development," said Sanders. “We serve those in need of affordable housing options, permanent and supportive housing, and the community support to improve their position in life,” said Sanders.

Sanders said he can see the impact the new homes and other development work are having on the larger community.

“There’s a sense of satisfaction,” he said. “We do neighborhood events, and when you walk around, people are still excited about the things going on in the neighborhood.”

Promise CDC has partnerships with the Community Redevelopment Agency, City of Memphis, Tennessee Housing Development Agency, and Community Lift. Its Affordable Housing Office is located in the April Woods Apartments complex at 262 Chelsea Avenue in Uptown-Bickford.
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Read more articles by A. J. Dugger III.

A.J. Dugger III is an award-winning journalist and native Memphian who joined High Ground as lead writer for its signature series, On the Ground, in August 2019. Previously, he wrote for numerous publications in West Tennessee and authored two books, “Southern Terror” and “The Dealers: Then and Now.” He has also appeared as a guest expert on the true-crime series, “For My Man.” For more information, visit (Photo by April Stilwell)