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    MHA achievements are cause for pride

    Ruby Bright, Special to The Commercial Appeal
    Three milestones occurred in Memphis this year that mark one of the most dramatic turnaround stories of a public housing agency in the nation.
    In March Memphis Housing Authority executive director Robert Lipscomb announced that MHA achieved a “high performer” ranking for 2012 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This ranking is bestowed on local housing authorities after HUD conducts a comprehensive review of their physical condition, financial discipline, management and capital fund.
    At the same time, HUD notified MHA’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (better known as Section 8) that it had received a perfect score of 100 percent on a separate evaluation.
    These achievements were followed by the awarding of the HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships to the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis in recognition of its partnership with MHA in support of public housing residents.
    Taken together, these events demonstrate that MHA, which once was written off as one of the worst public housing authorities in the United States, is now considered one of the best.
    In 1998, HUD classified MHA as a “troubled” agency after repeated scandals and sanctions. It even became the target of an Office of the Inspector General audit and a possible takeover by HUD. These controversies led to the appointment of Lipscomb as executive director, and in the years that followed, the housing authority has been reinvented into an agency known for its collaborations, innovations and effectiveness. The Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis is proud of our 10-year partnership with MHA and our part in this success story.
    MHA is particularly known for its success in winning federal funds through HUD’s HOPE VI program to revitalize Memphis’ aging housing projects. These funds are awarded through a nationwide competitive grant application process, and only a handful of other cities — including some many times larger than Memphis — have received five HOPE VI grants. Over the past 19 years, Memphis has received $150 million from the HOPE VI program, and as a result no longer warehouses families in poverty, but instead offers them options that include homes in mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods.
    LeMoyne Gardens became College Park, Lauderdale Courts became Uptown Square, Lamar Terrace became University Place, Hurt Village became Uptown Homes and Dixie Homes became Legends Park. Today, those once-languishing housing projects have been converted into a national model of livable neighborhoods. A sixth housing project, Cleaborn Homes, will soon become Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing.
    Traditional public housing concentrated poverty and created places with limited opportunity for their residents. Today, we know from a growing body of research that giving poor families more options about where to live improves their chances for growth and does not increase criminal activity. A recent 10-year study of 215 cities found “virtually no relationship” between the prevalence of housing choice and higher neighborhood crime.
    In December 2003, the Women’s Foundation joined forces with the city of Memphis, MHA and the St. Louis-based nonprofit organization Urban Strategies Inc., to implement Urban Strategies Memphis HOPE. US Memphis HOPE is a comprehensive case management model that integrates strategies for adults and children. This unique approach helps more families secure and maintain employment, encourages adults to expand their education and job skills, supports youth academic success, and connects them to postsecondary education and/or employment opportunities.
    Because of its strategic collaborations and innovations, MHA is now a well-respected housing authority with deep community support. It plays a key role in reshaping the face of housing in Memphis while leading low-income families to opportunities that create better lives. As those living in poverty begin to prosper, our city prospers.
    Our next major initiative is to secure HUD funds and additional local support to revitalize the city’s last remaining housing project, Foote Homes. Leveraging a track record of community revitalization and transformation, MHA’s recent application for a Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant — if approved by HUD officials — will provide the resources to create new housing and redevelop the surrounding neighborhood.
    The work of US Memphis HOPE, in partnership with MHA and supported by the Women’s Foundation’s many donors, is aimed at reducing the poverty rate in Memphis. Our success will hinge on the strong network of strategic partnerships, leadership and innovation. Poverty reduction is a bold goal, but if we have learned anything, it is that there is little we cannot achieve when we work together.
    Beginning 79 years ago with the establishment of MHA, the people of Memphis made a commitment to quality housing and opportunities for every citizen. With MHA’s designation as a “high performer,” we acknowledge once again this long-held Memphis value as we celebrate another milestone in our commitment to affordable housing and economic security for families.
    Ruby Bright is executive director and CAO of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis.
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