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Sunday, November 1, 2009

The HOPE VI Homes in Riverview: An Overview

"Riverview is heading positively into the future right now, while preserving much of its historic past."

Those words from Terry Cunningham, executive director of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority, as work is beginning on 38 rental units in the Riverview Community. Unlike the HOPE VI homes built in the Sherwood-Hiwassee subdivision, the Riverview homes are rental units. The Sherwood-Hiwassee homes were designed for ownership by first-time home buyers, who were guided through the process by HOPE VI coordinators working with local lenders. The KHRA will operate the HOPE VI rental units for the government.

The HOPE VI Redevelopment Grant was given to the City of Kingsport by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 4 phases:

54 Elderly/disabled rental units at the old Washington School
24 Homeownership units in the Sherwood-Hiwassee Subdivision
38 rental units in Riverview
1 Community Center in Riverview

The Riverview HOPE VI homes will have a somewhat local flavor, unlike the historic Riverview Apartments that were torn down in February last year, to make way for the construction.

"We have added several new home designs named in honor of several prominent families in the community," Mr. Cunningham says. Joining the names Blye, Dobbins, Pierce, Douglas, and Cunningham will be Gillenwater, Ford, Banner, and Thompson. The new homes will be multi- and single-level duplexes, for one or two families.

Construction on the new Riverview HOPE VI homes was original scheduled for last spring, but was delayed by the collapse in the housing and economic markets a year ago.

"One of the funding sources, in addition to HOPE VI government funds for the Riverview phase of the project, are Low Income Housing Tax Credits," Mr. Cunningham says. "The economic environment for tax credits crashed in mid-2008, resulting in more time required to finalize the allocation of the credits to us, and then to market the sell of those tax credits to equity investors. Once the market stabilized, agreements were signed and guarantees are now in place."

"That allows construction to begin."

Community reaction to the new HOPE VI homes in Riverview has been mixed, both in the Riverview neighborhood and in the Douglass Alumni Association, but mostly positive as the wait began after the apartments were torned down. Confusion had swirled over whether the Riverview Homes would be rental or for homeownership. Several seminars and question-and-answer sessions between HOPE VI administrators and counselors and community residents apparently answered the questions the community had.

"Currently, we have 41 original residents who lived in the Riverview Apartments and the community expressing an interest in returning to Riverview," says Mr. Cunningham. Preference has always been for apartment residents to have first choice in coming back, then Riverview residents, then others."

Strict requirements are in place on the rental units. Tenants and members of their families have to be working or enrolled as students in school, to be eligible for occupancy. If the requirements are adhered to as at similar HOPE VI rental homes in Knoxville and Chattanooga, any adult living in the home not working or enrolled in school, could get the entire family evicted.

"The elderly and disabled are exempt from the employment/school requirement," says Mr. Cunningham, noting that the rule does apply to relatives of the elderly or disabled. "The Fresh Start Foundation has case managers, along with job training and educational programs to help households maintain elibility to stay in the rental units."

Interested people can still apply for the Riverview HOPE VI homes. The process starts at the Fresh Start offices on MLK Drive. The staff there will start a case file with the applicant, and help them work towards meeting the criteria that will make them eligible.

The new "community within a community" will also have its own community center, originally scheduled to be built on MLK Drive/Lincoln Street. "When the original HOPE VI grant was submitted to the government," says Mr. Cummingham, "the city of Kingsport committed the renovation of the V.O. Dobbins Community Center as a leveraged project, in other words, it was easy to tie the HOPE VI proposal to the center renovations into one big project. As a result of that, the HOPE VI homes community center is actually being built as a part of V.O. Dobbins, on the ballfield end, alongside the old gymnasium."

"We're blessed that the project includes the expansion with the non-profit center at V.O. Dobbins, the new full-sized gym, and additional classrooms for Headstart. The relocation of the HOPE VI community center is wonderful, as it allows easier access to green space in the ballfield, the gyms, and the ability share facilities where appropriate."

"We were able to rescue many items from the Riverview Apartments and the V.O. Dobbins Center," Mr. Cunningham says. "We have the original plaque on the concrete flagpole base when the apartments were built in 1940, we also have the original steeple that sat atop the historic Carver Library, Calvin was able to save many of the seats from the Douglass Auditorium and other items. There are plans to incorporate those items into the design and look of the new facilities, to continue the historic aspect of the community."

All told, when the amount spent to build the Riverview Apartments in 1940 and the Douglass School in 1950-51, is translated into today's dollars, the 8 million dollar Dobbins Center renovation, and the 12 million dollar HOPE VI grant far exceeds the original investment in Riverview years ago.

The V.O. Dobbins Community Complex is ahead of its July, 2010 completion date, and could be opened by the spring of 2010. The Riverview HOPE VI rental units will be finished and ready for occupancy in November of 2010.

Mr. Cunningham says he hopes the neighborhood improvements will blend in with the community history, and its legacy in Kingsport.

"The Douglass Alumni Association has been a great partner in helping to preserve the history and heritage of the Douglass School and the Riverview Community," Mr. Cunningham says. "The future role will be determined by our combined needs to continue building on this heritage."

"We look forward to working with the Douglass Alumni on this continuing endeavor."

(EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE - The rental unit concept for Riverview was included in the original proposal to H.U.D. because the KHRA wanted to make it easy for people displaced from the Riverview Apartments to come back to the neighborhood. Most of them could not afford the $100,000+ price to own the homes built at Sherwood-Hiwassee, which were specifically for first-time homebuyers. Problem is, HOPE VI means BOTH homeownership AND rental property, and some folks confused the two at first. Many apartment residents thought the city was forcing them out of Riverview by making them have to OWN homes to come back, and that was never the idea for Riverview. The rental units being built there, are for low-income residents, with first preference given to those Riverview Apartment residents who had to move, and most apartment residents we have talked to, like that. The result is, almost 50 original Riverview Apartment families are coming back to the neighborhood to live in HOPE VI homes.

HOPE VI does requires increased enforcement of the income-education requirement.

In the other stories we have done on the HOPE VI homes in Chattanooga and Knoxville, both residents and city administrators in those cities have told this reporter how that ONE requirement (increased checking on everybody in the household), keeps drug dealers and criminals out of the housing complex, because everybody in the residence has to either be working at a job, or going to school. More police patrolling and cameras through the Weed & Seed program, keeps the drug dealers and sympathizers from hanging out on the street corners, and the housing requirement keeps them from having a hideout nearby in the new homes. We have also heard that, even if the bad element IS working or going to school..if they are convicted of a violent crime somewhere else in the city, that is ALSO grounds for eviction)---Calvin.