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Uptown developer irked by public housing rehabs and relocations

Rita Franklin, 68, sits among boxes packed with her belongings on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in her dining room. Most remaining public housing in Memphis is being privatized by HUD's RAD program. It is forcing residents to move out of subsidized housing for months so it can be rehabbed. Franklin will likely not be able to return to her Uptown home she’s lived in for over 15 years. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)
Rita Franklin, 68, sits among boxes packed with her belongings on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in her dining room. Most remaining public housing in Memphis is being privatized by HUD’s RAD program. It is forcing residents to move out of subsidized housing for months so it can be rehabbed. Franklin will likely not be able to return to her Uptown home she’s lived in for over 15 years. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

Tameka Moss moved out of her government-assisted Uptown home last month and went to an Airbnb in Whitehaven.

Her neighbor, Terry Jackson, moved out of his last week and moved in with a friend in North Memphis.

Their neighbor, Rita Franklin, who has been packed since Nov. 6, moved Thursday, Feb. 17, to an apartment in East Memphis.

“It’s a relief to know where I’m going,” Franklin said, “but I don’t know how long I’ll be gone or even whether I’ll be able to come back.”

Franklin and her neighbors are among hundreds of local public housing residents being “temporarily relocated” while their public housing units are renovated and converted to privately operated Section 8 housing.

The Uptown developer Henry Turley isn’t happy about any of it.

“I built those Uptown houses,” said Henry Turley, seen here in 2018. “There’s nothing wrong with those houses that should cause the residents to have to move out.” (Daily Memphian file)
“I built those Uptown houses,” said Henry Turley, seen here in 2018. “There’s nothing wrong with those houses that should cause the residents to have to move out.” (Daily Memphian file)

“I built those Uptown houses,” Turley said. “When MHA said they were in need of substantial renovations, well I was embarrassed. So I checked it out. There’s nothing wrong with those houses that should cause the residents to have to move out. Can you imagine how much stress that is causing? It’s just not necessary, far as I can tell.”

Turley and developer Jack Belz teamed up in 1999 to transform the old, blighted Greenlaw neighborhood, just north of Downtown, into a new, mixed-income community called Uptown.

The new Uptown development was seeded by a $35 million federal HOPE VI grant. The development included 319 new single-family homes. The developers sold 106 of them to the Memphis Housing Authority.

Now, those homes, as well as hundreds of other public housing units across the city, are being renovated and converted to Section 8 housing.

In the process, thousands of public housing residents are being “temporarily relocated.” MHA is covering their moving costs and rent.

Turley said he began getting “distress calls” from Uptown residents in early December. He emailed Dexter Washington, CEO of Memphis Housing Authority, to ask why.

Washington explained that the single-family rental homes in Uptown are part of a massive new federal housing program called the Rental Assistance Demonstration Project, or RAD.

RAD, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s plan to remake public housing, was authorized by Congress in 2012. The Memphis Housing Authority launched its own RAD program late last year.

Rita Franklin, 68, stands by a fig tree outside her Uptown home on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Franklin planted the tree 15 years ago when she moved into the house. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)
Rita Franklin, 68, stands by a fig tree outside her Uptown home on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. Franklin planted the tree 15 years ago when she moved into the house. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

In December, MHA sold the 106 single-family homes in Uptown, and 25 other rental homes at Askew Park, to a new limited partnership formed by MHA and BGC Advantage, a private development company based in Louisiana.

Proceeds from the $2.9 million sale are being used to help finance $20 million in repairs and renovations.

Turley noted that the sale price works out to about $22,000 per house. “We sold those houses to MHA for about $110,000 a piece,” Turley said. “And I know they’ve gone up in value, not down. Certainly not down that much. It doesn’t make sense.”

The 341 public housing apartments at College Park were sold for $10,710,000 in December. MHA’s four high-rises for seniors will be sold later this year.

Renovations at all properties could include new flooring, counters and cabinets, lighting, insulation, siding and windows, as well as plumbing, electrical and HVAC maintenance or upgrades.

“Temporary relocation will depend on the level of work needed at each individual home,” Washington told Turley.

Turley wasn’t satisfied with Washington’s response. He looked over a January 2020 inspection of Uptown properties.

The inspection, conducted by Safeways, a local nonprofit, noted missing window screens and torn blinds, and damaged roof shingles and siding at a number of properties. One house had a hole in the roof over the porch.

Most properties were in “good condition,” including Rita Franklin’s rental house, although the inspection reported “spider webs building” near the roof.

“Minor problems,” Turley said. “Nothing that would require someone to move out.”

Turley couldn’t find an interior inspection of the properties, so he started knocking on doors. He visited Moss, Jackson, Franklin and a few other Uptown residents.

“I couldn’t find anything wrong with any of those houses,” Turley said. “I did find that this RAD program is causing a hell of a lot of stress.”

Moss, 47, was relocated last month. She was told she would be gone up to a year.

“There’s mold in the storage room but that’s it, far as I know,” she said. “They are putting in new carpet and cabinets, but I don’t know why they couldn’t work around me.”

This is the second time in five years Moss has been “relocated”.

She and her daughter had been living in Foote Homes, the city’s last public housing project, which was demolished to make way for South City, a new $100 million “mixed-income” community.

“I’m not worried about me,” Moss said. “I just feel sorry for some of the older people who are having to do this. It’s so hard on them.”

That includes her Uptown neighbors Jackson and Franklin.

Jackson, 62, has been living with his stepson in a two-bedroom Uptown house for five years.

“There wasn’t nothing wrong with that house,” Jackson said. “I didn’t want to move.”

Most everything he owns is in storage now, except his wheelchair. Diabetes has taken both of his feet. Now it’s taking his eyesight.

“They say they’re going to make the bathroom handicapped-accessible, but they didn’t have to move me out to do that,” he said.

Franklin, 68, moved into a three-bedroom Uptown home with her two granddaughters in 2006.

“They’re grown and gone now, but they still come back to visit,” she said.

Franklin was informed about the RAD program in September. A form letter said she would “be required to move on or before Nov. 7, 2021.” She has been packed since Nov. 6.

She finally met with a RAD relocation specialist on Monday. Tuesday, she learned that she was moving on Thursday.

“I haven’t seen this place where they are sending me,” Franklin said. “They tell me it’s nice. I guess I’ll find out when I get there.”

This story first appeared at dailymemphian.com under an exclusive use agreement with The Institute.

Written By

David Waters is Distinguished Journalist in Residence and assistant director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis.

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