The consensus among experts in the field is that permanent supportive housing is the way to significantly impact homelessness. The idea is simple: Get those who are willing off the street and into housing with enough support they can stay there. Typically, they pay pro-rated rent out of S.S.I. or other income, which is supplemented by vouchers, moving from a liability to tax payers to the tune of about $30,000 per year in system costs, to becoming a rent-paying member of the community. The problem is the shortage of supportive housing.
The project represents the first larger-scale supportive housing planned for the city in a decade. Volunteer Ministries also opened Minvilla, a 57 unit supportive housing development, in 2010, and this will be their second supportive housing location. Minvilla is located on Broadway in what was once the Fifth Avenue Hotel. In 2012, Knoxville Leadership Foundation opened Flenniken Landing on Martin Mill Pike in south Knoxville, providing 48 units of supportive housing.
And then the local push for permanent supportive housing ended. Funding difficulties, combined with community pushback in the neighborhoods where facilities will be built, and a lack of political will combined to stop the program for a decade. The same decade saw the level of mental health support drop, as Lakeshore Mental Health Institute closed in 2013 and drug epidemics, including our current meth problem, swept the ranks of the homeless.
The current project was not without controversy. In 2019, community members objected to the removal of a parcel that had been identified as part of the adjacent park. After some negotiation, the site of the project was shifted slightly to avoid the controversial parcels. An additional controversy lingers, with a community greenway connection to the park not included in the current designs, while some in the community have made the request.
With Wednesday’s ground-breaking ceremony, construction is cleared to begin at the site and will include an office and 48 new homes divided into two buildings with 24 homes each. Supportive services for residents, including social workers and more, will be provided as part of the development. The projected completion date is just over one year from now, in the fall of 2022.
Mayor Kincannon, Vice Mayor and 6th District Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie, and VMC CEO Bruce Spangler, among others, spoke at the ceremony. “Permanent supportive housing works to solve chronic homelessness,” Volunteer Ministry Center CEO Bruce Spangler said at the groundbreaking. “Caswell Manor will build on the success of Minvilla Manor to place more people in permanent, stable housing. VMC and our community partners are prepared to offer all of the necessary services to ensure a positive, lasting and cost- effective outcome.”
Each of the units will be one-bedroom and will include a kitchen and bathroom. Also included will be a lounge, dining areas, computer lab, and laundry room. An outdoor patio will be included on the back, and the development “will be energy efficient and meet THDA’s ENERGY STAR design criteria.”
Targeting those who are experiencing chronic homelessness (experiencing homelessness for at least a full year):
Caswell Manor will serve people who are experiencing chronic homelessness, providing stability, support and re-integration into the community. Services will include interpersonal counseling, skills training, workforce re-entry training, education, financial literacy, life enrichment, field trips and more. Property attendants will be on-site around the clock, seven days a week, with weekday professional case managers working in close cooperation with the McNabb Center and Cherokee Health Systems.
The project came together through a range of sources. Volunteer Ministry Center acquired over $10 million in state, federal and private financing, which included a THDA Tennessee Housing Trust Fund grant. The project won an award for innovation from that group. An additional “$1.4 million of local public funding through the City of Knoxville’s Affordable Rental Development Program” will also be utilized.
Volunteer Ministry Center continues to source funds and furnishings to complete the homes. Bruce Spangler indicated a number of prospective occupants have already been identified. The unfortunate reality is that we can’t continue adding a new group of 50 houses every decade and hope to make a meaningful impact on the number of homeless individuals who could benefit from such a setting.
You can find more information about Caswell Manor, here.