The city of Memphis spent more than 18 months asking for input on what to do with the Foote Homes housing project. Once a report was turned in, the city chose to go with plans to tear down Foote Homes.
University of Memphis Professor Dr. Ken Reardon was hired by the city to work with the tenants of Foote Homes to help develop a plan on how to improve the 46 acre property at Vance and Hernando.
After a year and half, a 105 page Vance Avenue community transformation plan was created, focusing on what the tenants want.
"Two-thirds of them repeatedly said that they wanted to remain in an improved Foote, remain in a re-enhanced Vance Avenue," says Reardon.
The plan included public safety, quality schools, property enhancement, strong local and economic services and good jobs. Reardon says once the plan was presented the city nixed it, saying it's moving forward to relocate, demolish and replace with mixed income properties similar to Legend Park, the former Dixie Homes public housing.
Foote Homes is the last large scale public housing development in Memphis. The only property the city decided to redevelop is Uptown Memphis, formerly Lauderdale Courts.
"From a distance it appears there was a very famous Memphian who we all know and love. Elvis lived there," explains Reardon.
Reardon says Uptown was deemed a historic landmark. But, several famous tenants also grew up in Foote Home, including Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and Gloria Gayles, a famous scholar. Reardon filed to have Foote Homes designated as a historical landmark.
"This is also the home of Benjamin Hooks…right before he passed, (he) said public housing was the 2nd most important social invention of the 20th century," says Reardon.
Reardon says if the designation goes forward, it may halt the city's efforts to just tear down the property.
Dr. Reardon says it would seem a redeveloped property makes sense for the renewal of a community. But once the tenants are kicked out, just like in other redeveloped properties, only a handful ever return.
"In doing that they were disconnected from their neighbors, their family that live in the neighborhood, the church that they may have been going to for generations and they're now in neighborhoods distant from the central business district," explains Reardon.
Reardon says by forcing tenants out into communities without their social, economic or financial nets, just compounds the issues.
"You can put the same low income folks, working class folks in new housing, but if they don't have access to living wage job, if they don't have good schools for their children, if there isn't a local primary healthcare physician, there aren't parks there, kids can go to safely to, you're not going to achieve the social outcome."