The need for housing in Knoxville at all economic levels is a reality. Available apartments and homes for purchase are rapidly taken as the city grows. Inevitably, it is the most economically and otherwise vulnerable who suffer the most from the housing shortage. At the very bottom are those without a home and without the skills to obtain and maintain a residence. It is for these individuals that permanent supportive housing is a necessary solution. Volunteer Ministries has opened the latest of their efforts to fill this need.
A ribbon cutting was held yesterday for Caswell Manor, less than two years after ground was broken at 1501 East Fifth Avenue. The new home for 48 represents the first large permanent supportive housing facility to open in the city in over a decade. Volunteer Ministries opened Minvilla (57 homes) in 2010 and in 2012, Knoxville Leadership Foundation opened Flenniken Landing on Martin Mill Pike (48 homes). All residences are near downtown and on bus lines.
Both Minvilla and Flenniken have been very successful in allowing previously chronically homeless residents achieve a stable life. Many of the original residents continue to live successfully in their new homes. Neighborhoods, though sometimes reticent, have not seen the kinds of problems they might have feared. There is also an economic impact. Each unhoused person in the city is estimated to cost taxpayers $30,000 per year in needed services. Many, once housed, are able to pay rent from SSI or other sources, such as housing vouchers, compounding the savings.
Reverend Bo Townsend emceed the proceedings setting the stage by saying they refer to the residents as neighbors because they are part of our community. Eric Alexander of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) said, “This is what the agency is made to do and this is the type of housing we’re really made to support.” Mayor Kincannon also spoke saying, “What a wonderful day in our community.”
Some of her remarks are included in the video in this article. She pointed out that she could walk from her home to the new development. She expressed the city’s continued dedication to the issue of homelessness and noted the recent formation, with the county, of the Joint City County Office on Housing Stability. She added that her proposed budget for the coming year includes $7.5 million for affordable housing and an additional $1 million to address homelessness.
One of the buildings was named to honor Hunter Purnell, VMC’s current Board Chair, an announcement that was made at the ceremony. Chris Cowart, the new CEO of Volunteer Ministries who said, “Home runs deep in our identity as human beings.” Retiring CEO of VMC, Bruce Spangler noted his nearly twenty years in the position and said, “I had the best job in Knoxville.” He announced that the campus will be known as the David Russell Arning Campus in honor of Mr. Arning’s development work on the project.
The project was funded with money from a number of sources. The city contributed $1.4 million. THDA provided a tax credit allocation, which resulted in “an equity infusion” of $8.5 million through Redstone Equity Partners and $500,000 from the Tennessee Housing Trust Fund. Allen Associates Architects designed the buildings which were built by Merit Construction.
The homes at Caswell Manor are private individual residences including one bedroom and one bath in each. They include a complete and private kitchen. The larger facility offers “lounge and dining areas; computer lab; and laundry room. A patio will be constructed at the back of the building to accommodate outdoor seating and activities. The development will be energy efficient and meet THDA’s ENERGY STAR design criteria.” Beyond all that, I was struck by the simple array of mailboxes in the lobby. Many of these people have not had a mailbox for years.
I toured the rooms, which are spacious and nice if sparsely furnished. The accommodations are simple: a bed a table and chairs, a soft chair, and not much more. I imagined how overwhelming it must be to someone who has survived on the street for a year or more to realize they are safe and they will not have to move. I asked a member of the staff who confirmed that some of them struggle to accept that this much space is theirs and theirs alone.
While it is wonderful that these 48 people will have new homes, the need continues and decades-long gaps between new homes will not catch the city up. To that end, the city has announced plans for Callahan Flats which will offer 88 new homes off Callahan Road. Included will 58 homes offering permanent supportive housing and an additional 30 homes for residents making less than 60% of the Knoxville Area median income. It is projected for completion in late 2025.