On Wednesday, local and state officials joined the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, Keystone Development and the Johnson City Housing Authority for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Baker Street Apartments, which were completed after construction began in 2016.
The $1.5 million complex was built with the help of a $500,000 housing trust fund grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency and a $100,444 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati. According to THDA, the remaining funding needed for the 12-unit complex is being provided by the Johnson City Housing Authority.
According to Keystone Development President Richard McClain, the 12 new units are the first phase of a two-phase construction project.
“We have these twelve units here, and we’re adding twelve more in the second phase,” McClain said.
With affordable housing in short supply for many vulnerable segments of the population, McClain said the recent public housing project was much-needed. He added that homeless veterans and teens leaving the foster care system not only have a particular need for access to affordable housing, but adequate housing in general.
“We saw a need to have more of a dedicated facility for them, to make it a safe place and a little bit of a nicer place for them,” McClain said. “Our goal was always to make a place that we would want to stay in ourselves.”
According to the THDA, at least six of the completed apartments are designated for young adults ages 18 to 24 who have aged out of the state's foster care system. The remaining units will be used to house homeless veterans participating in the Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Hospital's Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Administration Supportive Housing voucher program, as well as the elderly and those with disabilities.
Former foster children living at Baker Street will have access to supportive services provided by Youth Villages and the Tennessee Department of Social Services. Veterans Affairs will also provide support for veterans living in the apartments. Rent will be determined by income.
THDA Director of Industry and Government Affairs Jeremy Heidt said the quality of the apartments constructed on Baker Street also serve to change people’s outlook on what public housing is supposed to be.
“We’re committed to changing the perception of affordable housing,” Heidt said. “These are places that you’d want to live.”
Keystone Development Board Chair Tommy Burleson said the location is also a plus.
“You’ll notice it’s in a good location in town. The Tweetsie Trail is right behind us, Cardinal Park is right here, there’s a lot of amenities close by and it’s near a major bus stop at the top of the hill,” Burleson said. “Each one of these we do get a little better, so we’re looking forward to the next one coming along.”
As cities across the country struggle to maintain old housing projects, THDA Executive Director Ralph Perrey said it’s important to realize the need to modernize affordable housing.
“You don’t know how different it is when you get an executive director at a public housing authority that realizes that the mission of the work is more than just taking care of the units that were built when Harry Truman was president,” Perrey said.
Before Vice Mayor Jenny Brock cut the ribbon for the apartment complex, she congratulated the Housing Authority and THDA for identifying the need to provide affordable housing for teens leaving the foster care system.
“I really never thought about how we had young teenagers aging out of foster care and then finding themselves homeless,” she said of the recent project. “But imagine them being able to live in something like this where they have a great deal of pride.”
Todd Berry of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati and Bank of Tennessee Senior Vice President Stephen Dixon both said they were impressed by the end result of the new apartments they helped fund.
“Being able to see something on paper is one thing, but then when it becomes a reality, and you come out here and see such beautiful properties that the Housing Authority and Keystone Development have made possible, it’s just a pleasure to be a part of that,” Dixon said of the apartment complex.
Keystone has secured a second $500,000 housing trust fund grant from THDA that will be used to help complete the second phase of the project. When both phases are finished, the development will provide 24 supportive housing units for both individuals and families.
According to McClain, the second phase still needs additional funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank. He said they should know if they receive this additional grant by Thanksgiving.