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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kingsport eyes Lee Apartments for city’s next HOPE VI project

Lee Apartments is Kingsport’s oldest public housing development and the second largest one in the city.



KINGSPORT — For the past four years, the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the city of Kingsport have worked to transform two distressed neighborhoods into vibrant, safer communities by replacing old houses with new ones and renovating and expanding a local landmark into a state-of-theart facility.
Now that this process is wrapping up, KHRA officials are looking at Lee Apartments as their next HOPE VI project.
The HOPE VI project launched more than four years ago after Kingsport received an $11.9 million HOPE VI grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in October 2006.
The project involved replacing 29 houses along Sherwood and Hiwassee with 24 new affordable homes, demolishing the old Riverview Apartments, and building 32 rental houses and duplexes on the site with six others in the neighborhood. Kingsport and the KHRA also renovated and expanded the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Center, adding another gymnasium, community center and nonprofit wing to the facility.
Terry Cunningham, executive director of the KHRA, said his office is wrapping up the final work on the Riverview project, going through cost certifications, audits and a draw-down on the grant money.
“It’s a lot of paperwork. We’re getting all of the loose ends tied up and paperwork filed on the current HOPE VI project,” Cunningham said. “What we’d really like to do is get everything wrapped up on the Riverview one before I get started on another one.”
Lee Apartments is Kingsport’s oldest public housing development (built in 1939-1940) and the second largest one in the city (128 units). The 4-acre development is bound by Sevier Avenue and Dale Street near the Salvation Army. More than 200 people call Lee Apartments home.
“One of the primary reasons we’d be interested in redeveloping it is its age, and the infrastructure needs to be upgraded,” Cunningham said. “It’s been a really successful development, and we’ve not had any major problems, though its age and density is kind of heavy.”
Cunningham said Lee Apartments will occasionally have an issue with drainage, though not as major as the drainage issues in Riverview prior to redevelopment. One issue Lee has struggled with over the years has been with a lack of parking, something Cunningham said needs to be addressed. If Lee Apartments were to be redeveloped, the idea would be to model the project after Riverview and build single-family homes or duplexes on the property, something that would also address the parking situation.
“(Applying for a HOPE VI grant for Lee) has been discussed by our board, to the extent that we know we’d like to do something,” Cunningham said. “We put out a plan of work annually through our agency plan, and it’s been mentioned if there’s a notice of funding availability through HOPE VI, we would like to put an application in.”
HUD has approved the KHRA’s agency plan and knows the agency is interested in doing another HOPE VI project. However, some major unknowns have come to light, especially in recent weeks with the battle over the federal budget and the launch of a new HUD redevelopment grant program.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the Choice Neighborhood Initiative program last month, and according a press release from HUD, the new program builds on the success of the HOPE VI program by linking housing improvements with a wider variety of public services, including schools, public transit and employment opportunities.
The press release continues by saying CN widens the traditional pool of eligible applicants by allowing, in addition to public housing authorities, local governments, nonprofit organizations and for-profit developers (who apply jointly with a public entity) to apply for grants.
Congress has approved HUD’s 2010 budget, which includes $65 million for CN grants. Last month, HUD announced the awarding of $4 million of these funds to 17 communities, while six other communities were selected as finalists to compete for the remaining $61 million.
Cunningham said he would like to start on a new HOPE VI project within the next couple of years.
“If the money was available, we would move on it immediately. From the standpoint of what’s reasonable, we would hope to submit an application in the 2012 round of funding, and if we get funded, then it would be 2013 before we really get moving on it,” Cunningham said. “This is all based on speculation on what the federal government is going to do. Previously none of the numbers looked good, and I haven’t seen the latest proposal from the Republicans.”
The KHRA has six public housing developments (Lee, Riverview, Cloud, Dogwood Terrace, Holly Hills and Tiffany Court), the Holston Terrace housing assistance facility, and it administers 1,242 vouchers for Section 8 houses and apartments throughout the city.