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Seniors being forced from homes as Memphis Housing Authority sells public housing to private developers

Residents at College Park, Uptown, and Askew Place are all affected by the housing authority's plans.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Senior citizens living at the College Park apartments will have to find a new place to live. The Memphis Housing Authority owns the property and is selling it to a new company next month.

The property is public housing. The new owners plan to renovate the property and turn it into Section 8 housing. 

A non-profit entity affiliated with the housing authority and a private developer will be the new owners. The new owners expect to close on the property next month.

The non-profit will be called Memphis Housing Strategies and will still be connected to the Memphis Housing Authority. MHA will retain ownership of the ground the apartments are built on.

In addition to College Park, the new owners will take over properties in Uptown and Askew Place. Eventually, the Memphis Housing Authority will let the new owners take over 1,500 units. The College Park project will include 80 senior apartments and 161 regular apartments.

"It is an opportunity to preserve public housing units for a long time by changing the funding platform," said Dexter Washington, Chief Executive Officer of the Memphis Housing Authority. 

Memphis is taking part in a federal pilot program called the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program, known as the RAD Program. By changing the format of ownership, more funding can be acquired for projects.

"We can use the buildings as collateral. We can get private financing from investors, using low-income tax credits, and that allows us to make wide-scale renovations," said Washington. 

The RAD program plans started in 2018, but Washington said it was delayed several times. Only recently did MHA learn that low-income housing tax credits were awarded, which put the project on a fast path, said Washington.

Once the sale is complete in mid-December, seniors will have to move to a new place to live. The seniors are upset they have only learned about the relocation in the past few weeks. MHA will pay for the relocation of residents.

Tuesday at a meeting with MHA, they learned they would be getting appointments with relocation specialists to help them move. The goal is to begin moving residents in January. 

MHA leaders told seniors renovations of their units would take up to 210 days, and seniors could move in with a relative, move to a hotel, or be given a Section 8 voucher and move to a new apartment. 

Residents will have the right to move back after renovations are complete if they choose.

Some residents have lived in the College Park apartments since it opened in 2001 and want to stay in their homes. 

"I moved here when it was brand new. I am still in that apartment, and I am now 91-years-old," said Cora Turner. 

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Community activists fear many of the residents won't return when the renovation is complete. Memphis has torn down much of its public housing in the last 20 years and replaced it with new buildings which are part of public/private partnerships. Most of the people who MHA moved from those properties did not return. 

"We're not trying to change the landscape of who lives here. This is the first opportunity we've had using this program to impact folks that are in place," said Washington. 

Washington said it boils down to money. MHA can't do significant renovations with the funds it receives from the federal government on an annual basis, and this allows a complete renovation to be done. 

Residents are concerned about finding a new place to live, given the housing crisis in Memphis. 

Washington said MHA would take care of its residents.

"Nobody will be left in a lurch. We have a whole relocation team dedicated to finding places for them."

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