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2019 State of Memphis Housing Summit stated the facts, offered solutions

By Cole Bradley, High Ground News

The 2019 State of Memphis Housing Summit was held tOctober 29, at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

The day-long event was intended to inform the work of the attending individuals and agencies with Memphis-specific examples, statistics, impacts and solutions towards quality housing for all residents and equitable development across the city.

The summit included roughly 200 city and county officials, neighborhood leaders, nonprofit organizations, philanthropies and others.

It was the first such summit in Memphis and was hosted by the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development with support from partners including Kresge Foundation, Tennessee Housing Development Agency, Plough Foundation, Hyde Foundation, Neighborhood Preservation Inc. and BLDG Memphis.

Paul Young, HCD’s director, gave the opening keynote speech.

His central thesis set the tone for the day: safe, quality housing is a basic need and all areas of individual and community well-being — education, economics, transit, health, relationships, environment — hinge on housing.

“Housing is at the core,” said Young.

Young noted a significant number of Memphians face overcrowding, unsafe conditions, chronic eviction, homelessness and mortgage and rental rates that price them out of quality housing.

Compounding these issues is the high rate of investor-owned properties, particularly those owned by out-of-state investors, who have little accountability to their properties and even less accountability to the people and neighborhoods of Memphis. Deeply intertwined with issues of quality, affordable housing are deficits in quality, affordable education and job training opportunities, inadequate transit, low wages and more.

Young’s speech outlined six key challenges in Memphis, which subsequent speakers and moderators reiterated and enumerated throughout the day. Those key challenges are:

  • Low property values that make it difficult to secure funding for new home construction, homeownership and home repairs
  • Low wages that can’t support higher property values, rents and mortgages
  • A high rate of rental properties in neighborhoods built for homeownership
  • The geographic size of the city and resulting burden on all available resources
  • A lack of quality, middle-income housing in core neighborhoods
  • A high rate of blighted properties, which often result in hazardous living conditions and frequent relocation for lower-income families

“We can’t [address] housing in a vacuum,” said Ashley Cash, lead administrator for the city’s Office of Comprehensive Planning, during the day’s first group discussion, which centered on the Memphis 3.0 Comprehensive Plan and was facilitated by Cash and Alison Nemirow with Strategic Economics.

Housing solutions, Cash said, must also include new loan products for homeowners purchasing low-value properties, robust transit to connect people to training and employment and a balance between developers’ and business owners’ need for profitability and protecting and lifting up the most vulnerable Memphians.

Breakout sessions dove into the how and why of Memphis’ current state of housing, as well as best practices and proven solutions already making a positive impact in the city.

Topics included ‘Overcoming Impacts of Redlining and Residential Segregation,’ ‘Impacts of Absentee Owners on Memphis Neighborhoods,’ ‘Know Your Neighbor,’ ‘Gentrification and Displacement Impacts’ and ‘Housing and Health Partnerships for Change.’

The speakers and moderators represented a number of national and local organizations including The Works Inc., Memphis Area Legal Services, BLDG Memphis, Promise Development Corporation, Shelby County Health Department and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis.

Opening remarks were provided by Memphis City Mayor Jim Strickland and Chantel Rush, senior program officer with Kresge Foundation. The closing conversation, entitled ‘Where Do We Go from Here?,’ was led by Young and Nathaniel Smith, founder and chief equity officer for Partnership for Southern Equity.

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