History of Jackson Housing Authority

The Jackson Housing Authority (JHA) was the seventh public housing agency (PHA) chartered by the Tennessee legislature in the aftermath of the passage by Congress of the Housing Act of 1937. The Housing Act was one of many legislative responses by the Nation to the Great Depression, and JHA was part of the “first wave” of established housing authorities established in the U.S. Today it remains one of the over three thousand PHAs in existence nationally and one of the oldest of the approximately 84 PHAs in the State of Tennessee.

As with many of the Nation’s Depression-era PHAs, JHA began by building a pair of two-story red brick townhouse developments known as Allenton Heights (photo at right) and Merry Lane, both in the downtown area. These developments totaled 100 and 96 apartments, respectively, and began renting to low-income families of Jackson in 1941.

With the advent of the postwar period, a second wave of public housing construction began nationally and JHA was part of that movement, constructing the 210-unit Parkview Courts in 1952 in East Jackson, followed by the 215-unit Lincoln Courts (circa 1954) a few miles to the northeast of downtown, above Lane College. Both of these developments shared the ubiquitous two-story red brick townhouse design that was prototypical across the U.S. during the pre- and postwar periods.

JHA remained stable for another ten years or so, assisting roughly 600 low-income families in Jackson, until it joined in yet-another national wave of public housing development in response to the birth of the War on Poverty, Civil Rights Act, and the “Great Society” push of the mid-1960s. Another 224 units were added to the JHA inventory, this time drawing upon a one-story yellow brick design that became symbolic, throughout the South, of this next growth spurt in the Nation’s affordable housing. Emblematic of this design were Washington Douglas (photo at left), as well as Rosewood, Neff Circle, Allenton Annex, and Lincoln Circle. These developments were placed on smaller sites that meshed well with their surrounding neighborhoods and remain among the most attractive of Jackson’s affordable housing communities to this day.

True to form, when the Nation embarked on a surge of public housing development in the late 1960s and early 1970s, aimed at elderly citizens and persons with disabilities, JHA developed McMillan Towers (photo at right), an eight- story affordable high-rise that comprised a new and different housing product for the Jackson community. When finished in 1971, McMillan featured 89 efficiency apartments, 59 one-bedroom, and 3 two-bedroom units, for a total of 151 dwelling units.

By this time, JHA’s portfolio had grown to almost a thousand apartments, in ten complexes largely in the downtown and southeast quadrant of the City of Jackson. As with its peers throughout the Nation, JHA began modernizing its properties under a succession of HUD-funded federal programs that continue to this day. JHA was also able to assemble one more new development to round out its twentieth century portfolio, the construction in 1985 of 31 two- and three-bedroom units known as Kingfield. This brought the total JHA unit count to 1,027 where it remained for two decades.

Also during this period, the Jackson Housing Authority began serving as the implementation agency for the City of Jackson’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and related federal programs that were established nationally by Congress. It also embraced what was first the Section 8 existing housing “certificate” program that later became known as Section 8 Existing Housing Choice Vouchers. Today JHA administers 1,450 vouchers and has over 1,700 families on its waiting list for this very popular program.

In the late 1990s, with a majority of its units at or near five decades in age, JHA commissioned a long-range Asset Management Plan that concluded it should continue to hold and maintain its newer stock but look carefully at opportunities to redevelop its original red-brick developments, and to remain vigilant for acquisition candidates. Capital investment in the older stock was to be made sparingly, sufficient to maintain habitability until redevelopment could occur.

At approximately 10:35 pm on May 4, 2003, an F-4 tornado bore down on downtown Jackson, TN as the front end of an unusual outbreak of violent weather across the Southeast U. S. that would last a fortnight. Upon reaching Jackson’s urban core, the funnel was a half mile wide. A second (F-3) funnel took shape just to its south.

As fate would have it, the F-4 was perfectly aligned to destroy not one but two of Jackson’s red brick complexes and would unfortunately claim several lives in the process. See photo at right. With one stroke, the storm caused the eventual demolition of both sites (306 dwelling units) and, in the process, determined the fate of 30% of JHA’s aging housing stock.

In effect, Mother Nature had managed to greatly accelerate the pace of execution of the Asset Management Plan. Exactly one year after the tornado, HUD came through with $10.9 million in HUD public housing disaster funds. As a result, JHA decided to reexamine their strategic plan to see if $10.9 million (plus insurance proceeds) could replace anywhere near 306 units of affordable rental housing. Through a JHA-created instrumentality (Tennessee Housing Development Corporation or “THDC”, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation), a series of transactions were executed that indeed met and exceeded that goal, while diversifying the type and location of both affordable rental and affordable home ownership opportunities in Jackson. The bulk of what we now call the Jackson Transformation occurred within five to six years of the tornado.

In order to stretch the limited HUD dollars, and generate replacement housing quickly, JHA/THDC determined the initial transaction needed to be an acquisition with rehab. This would have the added benefit of potentially rescuing at-risk housing in the broader Jackson community. A privately-owned 1970s-era conventional apartment complex in northwest Jackson (comprising 141 dwelling units) was rebranded as The Villages at Old Hickory or “TVOH” (photo at right). Based on acquisition costs of $2.8 million (roughly $20,000 per unit) and a comparable amount in hard cost rehab, plus soft costs, THDC was able to replace almost half the units lost to the tornado, for a fraction of the cost of new construction. Additionally, JHA expanded its portfolio into a new part of town, while rescuing a property that had been showing signs of disinvestment. TVOH remains fully occupied to this day.

This was followed by the purchase and rehab of a 1970s-era project-based Section 8 development in East Jackson totaling 50 units, and the construction of a similar number of new public housing units on the undeveloped portion of the purchased land.

This expanded affordable housing enclave was renamed “East Pointe”. Construction began in 2006, resulting in 49 new units and substantial rehab of the 50 Section 8 units.

As East Pointe was beginning construction, JHA had demolished the Parkview Courts development in East Jackson, on which 210 of the 306 lost public housing units had stood. (It had also demolished the 96 red-brick World War II era development known as Merry Lane, that had been hit by the F-4 tornado before the funnel made its way to Parkview. JHA was able to sell the vacant Merry Lane site to the Madison County Government some years later).

The neighborhood of aging one-story bungalows that lay to the east of Parkview had also been savaged by the tornado. The City moved quickly to acquire those homes irreparably damaged and demolish the structures. The nature of the tornado’s path and power was such that some houses on the same block were destroyed, and others received only minor damage.

This provided a unique opportunity for a joint City/JHA in-fill initiative that resulted in JHA acquiring the resulting scattered vacant lots and constructing 22 new 3-BR ranch homes, interspersed with those houses receiving only minor damage. HUD approval was obtained to allow JHA to use non-disaster (capital) funds to cover the cost of construction, and to sell the homes to public-housing-eligible households at prices they could afford. A non-profit organization from Memphis helped potential buyers repair their credit and obtain first mortgages.

Also during this period, JHA/THDC invested millions of dollars in the substantial rehabilitation of McMillan Towers, including the reconfiguration of most efficiency apartments into more popular one-bedroom units. The reconstituted McMillan Towers is now 124 apartments, and the innovative financing (involving a loan against JHA’s future HUD capital funds) received national acclaim.

While the homeownership program was being carried out during 2006-2008, plans began to be devised for building back on the original Parkview site. Several principles guided the planning for the small elderly development that came to be known as Centennial Pass, (photo at left), a tie-in to nearby Centennial Park to the west. Centennial Pass was to front on the Phillips Street block face, opposite a portion of the new single-family infill housing developed under JHA’s homeownership program described above. Second, only a portion of the original Parkview site would be built on, as there was no desire to recreate a huge project (210 units) in the neighborhood. (It was also a fact that the northwestern portion nearest Centennial Park was in a flood plain). Third, the state housing finance agency (Tennessee Housing Development Agency or “THDA”) was favoring complexes of 50 units or less in its competition for competitive tax credits that ultimately provided the bulk of the $6 million that financed the construction of this development.

By the time Centennial Pass was completed in 2010, virtually all of the 306 public housing units lost to the tornado of 2003 had been replaced. Better yet, the location, scale, design, and subsidy structure of the replacement housing was in welcome contrast to the project housing it had replaced.

More recently, JHA has gotten “RAD-ical” with Kingfield North and South. Translated: the premise of HUD’s still fairly-new Rental Assistance Demonstration (“RAD”) program is to convert public housing subsidy and regulation to Section 8 subsidy and regulation. Like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, subsidy for RAD conversions would be structured to subsidize the difference between a set “contract rent” and the share of that rent a tenant would pay (calculated on 30% of their adjusted income).

RAD became a perfect vehicle for housing authorities like Jackson who wanted to improve aging properties in their community by rehabbing them. It was also a useful way to transfer rental assistance to newly-constructed units.

By late 2013, JHA had decided it wanted to do some of both. Its existing Kingfield development, shown at right, dating from the late 1980s, had been moderately rehabbed in the early 2000s but was once again in need of updating. It contained 20 two-bedroom units and 11 three-bedroom units.

JHA had also purchased a vacant wooded parcel to the north of Kingfield. Through its development arm (THDC), JHA wanted to build new housing on the parcel.  It wanted to diversify the unit sizes available in the Kingfield corridor by focusing on one- and two-bedroom units only, to reflect recent market trends favoring smaller households.

In June, 2016, financing for the new units (now known as “Kingfield North”) was received from THDA, and later that year the financing for the rehab of the original Kingfield units was obtained. By the end of 2018, all of the rehab and new construction was completed and all units at both Kingfield North and Kingfield South were occupied by income-eligible households. Today these “RAD” units represent a further refinement and expansion of affordable housing in the City of Jackson.

Looking ahead, JHA/THDC will be vigilant for possible acquisition, rehab, new construction, homeownership, and/or other opportunities that will enable it to carry out its mission in new and exciting ways, building on its solid track record of accomplishments for the people of the Jackson community.