Members of the Klondike Partnership after clearing a legislative hurdle to their redevelopment effort in the Klondike neighborhood. (Photo: Instagram)

In an Instagram post Tuesday (Dec. 20) night, Roshun Austin, standing in the middle of a picture of members of the Klondike Partnership, wrote, “Now I can finish some of my other outstanding work.”

The post was a congratulatory acknowledgment of the redevelopment group’s successful weeks-long fight to get local legislative approval for a redevelopment trust fund for the Klondike Tax Increment Financing (TIF). 

The City Council unanimously approved the TIF Tuesday. The County Commission approved the TIF Monday (Dec. 19). Approval by both entities was required.

The TIF is a tax incentive that will funnel increased tax revenue from the redevelopment in the Klondike neighborhood back into the area to support the community’s infrastructure, including improving streets, building sidewalks, installing more lighting, and creating parks.

It covers an area bounded by Chelsea and Jackson avenues, Watkins Street and I-240. 

The partnership includes the Klondike Smokey City CDC, The Works, Neighborhood Preservation, Inc, and Urban Renaissance Partners.

Some area residents welcomed the push to redevelop a neighborhood that has seen better days.

Others, however, told commission and council members they feared the redevelopment initiative would result in displacement of long-time residents and increase property taxes, resulting in financially challenged residents losing their homes or struggling to pay higher taxes. 

They asked the commission and council to consider freezing property taxes at current levels. Partnership representatives, however, reminded the legislators that there already were programs in place to ease the property-tax burden for seniors and others.

Opponents also said there has not been adequate community input on the redevelopment plan.

“Our goal is that no one is displaced from their home in the Klondike community,” said Austin, CEO of The Works. “The Klondyke Partnership will continue to invest in the homes for purchase and rent with the benefit of long-term affordability.”

Klondike Smokey City CDC Housing Director Randall Garrett said residents would not be replaced or priced out of their community because of the revitalization project.

Klondike Smokey City CDC Housing Director Randall Garrett. (Courtesy photo)

“This is not gentrification, and residents will not have to leave their homes because of an inability to afford their property,” said Garrett. “My dad will be 80, and he talks about a time in the Black community when people could leave their doors open … and they shopped at the corner grocery. They had a village.

“We are envisioning a total community with affordable, newly renovated housing. We want to restore the village. We are rebuilding a Black community for its Black residents. There will be no massive displacement as we have seen time and time again.”

Despite assurances by Austin and Garrett, several residents told the council that there “is still fear that residents will end up losing their homes.”

“…A lot of residents won’t be able to afford those property taxes,” said Kathy Gray, one of the more vocal members of the community.

Austin said in an interview with The New Tri-State Defender after the council vote that most of Klondike’s residents are senior women, many of them living in homes that have been in the family for generations.

Roshun Austin speaks at the Memphis City Council meeting. (Courtesy photo)

“We have been heavily involved in community engagement,” said Austin. “We understand the fear of families losing everything because of property values going up. The Klondike partnership envisions zero displacement.

“We are intentional about what we are doing. We are revitalizing a Black community for its legacy Black residents. We will continue to meet with residents, so they understand we are fighting for them.”

Austin said the TIF will address an important component of a total revitalization of Klondike – refurbishing the infrastructure.

“We have purchased 400 properties for redevelopment, and we have already completed 85 brand new homes,” said Austin. “We do gut rehabs, and each of our properties is equipped with appliances, including washer and dryer. New properties without new infrastructure would make revitalization incomplete. So, today’s action (by the council) will mean a lot to the Klondike community in the future.”

To assuage residents’ fears, the City Council proposed that a committee be formed to encourage community involvement as revitalization continues.

Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery on Monday also committed to create an ad hoc committee, including members of the public, to make sure their concerns are considered. 

With some Klondike residents in attendance, the Klondike Partnership secured the approval the group needed from the Memphis City Council on Tuesday. (Courtesy photo)

The nonprofit collaborative also addresses blight, homelessness in the community, foster care, and wrap-around services.

“We employ residents from the neighborhood to clean up lots and to take care of other improvement tasks,” said Austin. “We pay residents to work in their own community. This creates pride in their neighborhood.”

Garrett said the partnership understands the importance of Klondike residents understanding that the group is working for their benefit.

“Generally, my role is to speak from an emotional standpoint,” said Garrett. “Klondike was founded in 1899 by Blacks. It was their own community. Like other Black communities, there was a strong sense of village and unity. 

“We can have that again. I truly believe that. Our goal is to have every Klondike resident see that vision, also.”