South City

As Downtown grows, South City invests in low-income residents

South City — the 600-unit, mixed-income, multifamily housing development on the former site of the Foote Homes public housing project — will see its first tenants this summer. Many will be former Foote Homes residents who remember the vacant lots, aging homes and a scatter of small businesses surrounding the complex.

But soon the area near South City may be flush with businesses, entertainment and housing.

Announcements for major additions and relocations to the area include the Wiseacre Brewing Company brewery and taproom, FedEx headquarterrelocation and Union Row and The Clipper mixed-use developments. Together they represent more than a billion dollars of investment.

But how will these new developments affect low-income residents? Will housing and retail be affordable and accessible or will vulnerable residents be displaced as the area gentrifies?

ComCap Partners and Memphis Housing Authority are two of the partners in the South City development and say they welcome other investments because low-income residents want and need the nearby retail and job opportunities that weren’t available when Foote Homes still stood.

“It will allow them, without necessarily having to have a car, to navigate employment opportunities,” said MHA director Marcia Lewis.

CompCap president Archie Willis said he doesn’t yet know if these employers will offer the living wages necessary for South City residents to shop and find entertainment in their own neighborhood, but for now ComCap and MHA are making progress where they can in providing affordable housing.

“There will be a lot of affordable housing options in that neighborhood regardless of those other new developments,” said Willis.

Former Foote Homes residents are guaranteed a new apartment in South City, and low-income families can choose from other options including the recently announced Forum Flats.

Related: "Affordable apartments to be built near FedEx Forum"

Lewis said MHA is taking unprecedented steps to stay connected to former residents and bring them back when South City opens. They’re also helping families work towards financial independence through additional housing, employment and education programs.

“We’re very comfortable that there will be affordability, and there will be the ability for households to begin to become more independent of [housing] subsidies and are moving up,” she said.

Phase two of the South City housing development is under construction. Phase three will be reviewed by the Land Use Control Board March 14. (Cole Bradley)

Progress Report

South City’s housing is part of the broader South City Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. In 2015, the city received a $29 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods Initiative to develop the disinvested neighborhood into a thriving mixed-income community.

South City has five overlapping phases for more than 600 two and three-bedroom units. Roughly a third of those units will be market rate. One third will be partially subsidized for moderate-income families who live at 80 percent or below the Memphis area's median income, and a third will be subsidized for families at 60 percent or below the area's median income. An additional 112 units for low-income families will be located off-site but in the neighborhood.

“The first move-ins we anticipate will start occurring around July,” said Lewis.

Phase one, which is 60 percent complete, began in March 2018 near Vance Avenue between Danny Thomas Boulevard and Lauderdale Street. Phase two is also underway, and the Land Use Control Board will review phase three March 14. The final phase is 120 units of senior housing.

“We will start all of the housing by 2021,” said Willis. “We will probably be done with all of it, if not done we will certainly be finalizing it, by the end of 2022.”

Getting Groceries

Housing is on track, but plans for a South City grocery store have so far been unsuccessful. Willis said grocery chains won’t commit to the area because of its low population density and income levels, despite offers of free land and a $2 million investment from the Choice Neighborhoods grant and City of Memphis.

“If we can get them to Memphis and have a conversation, answer whatever questions they have, let them see what’s happening, we think we could make a great case," he said.

The partners are now in talks with a national affordable grocery chain who is considering three potential sites for a 20,000-square-foot location. Willis said he remains skeptical the deal will manifest, but Lewis is confident the wave of planned private investment around South City will strengthen their case.

“I think that’s a very viable thing now,” she said.

The Union Row mixed-use development includes a proposal for a grocer, but Willis and Lewis see no conflict. The stores would cater to different tastes, trends and incomes, and South City’s store is still necessary because many residents will lack transportation and need close access.

Some retail and entertainment at the proposed developments may be too pricey for low-income residents, but any South City grocery would be affordable.

Part of the old Foote Homes site has been cleared for construction and will be part of South City's later phases. (Cole Bradley) When asked whether new Downtown developments could impact South City’s affordable housing, Lewis and Willis said no. Market rate rents could increase, but the affordable units are based on the median income of the entire metropolitan area, not just Downtown.

“We’ll have an affordability requirement with the housing authority and HUD for I think it’s 40 years,” said Willis of the set rental rates. 

Bringing Foote Homes Back

When Foote Homes shuttered, 386 families were relocated.

Lewis said across the country when public housing residents are displaced for mixed-income redevelopment, only about 10 percent on average return. On paper, South City’s goal is 100 percent. Realistically, they’re hoping for 70 percent.

To reach their goal, MHA partnered with Memphis-based Urban Strategies Inc. to track former residents and assist with healthcare, rent support, employment help and project updates.

MHA is leveraging a federal Jobs Plus grant to help residents connect to partners like FedEx and Southwest Tennessee Community College. Lewis said roughly 56 percent former residents are now employed compared to a 26 percent employment rate when Foote Homes closed.

“We need to remove all of the disparities that are in place when it comes to housing and education and job opportunities,” she said.

MHA also hosts town hall style meetings where residents give feedback on South City’s progress. The most recent meeting had over 200 attendees.

“There is a lot of excitement because the vision is becoming clearer and more people are buying into it,” she said.

The extra effort is necessary if the partners want Foote Homes residents to return.

“We’ve really have done things that we didn’t have to do for these people who have been relocated,” said Lewis. “If for some reason we are not successful, it won’t be because we didn’t try. And we’ll be able to show that from day one, we never stopped trying.”
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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.