Steve Neighbors doesn't look like a gambler. His sartorial style is more Land's End than The Sopranos; he drives an SUV, not a Caddie. But Neighbors gets his kicks taking risks in new housing. He's currently gambling that there are at least 30 people in Nashville hungering for a fresh taste of urban living.
Neighbors has placed his bet on two acres of land across Eighth Avenue North from the Farmers' Market, a site now home to the very used cars of Eaton Auto Village. This week, the board of the Metro Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) voted to name AHR Development, the construction arm of the not-for-profit Affordable Housing Resources, as the developer of "8.9n," a complex of 30 townhouses. AHR, which Neighbors directs, will build condos ranging from 900 to 1,200 square feet, with one to three bedrooms, to sell for between $109,000 and $159,000.
Neighbors knows how to build housing for those with moderate means. For AHR, and previously, for MDHA, he has overseen construction of 300 single-family homes in a variety of inner-city neighborhoods. His target market for those houses was households with an income of 80 percent or less of the Nashville mediancurrently $58,000 for a family of four.
Neighbors' current project differs from past ones in that it's based on a more urban prototype than the detached cottagethe row house tradition of cities such as Baltimore. And unlike his previous constructions, only one-third of the condos in 8.9n will be dedicated to the income-challenged; the rest will be at market rate. "The only subsidy is for the 10 low-income mortgages, not for the units themselves," Neighbors says.
The $5 million funding for the project comes from a veritable jigsaw puzzle of sources, including MDHA, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, Citizens Bank, and Capital Bank & Trust. Neighbors points out that 8.9n is a small project by developer standards, and the projected profit margin is not what residential builders typically require. "Our object is to break even, or end up slightly in the plus column," he says. "It's highly unlikely that a for-profit company would do something like this. That's why we take the risk."
Neighbors has assembled a team for 8.9n with seasoning equal to his own. The condos are designed by Everton Oglesby Askew Architects (EOA), the firm that crafted the urban design guidelines for the adjacent Hope Gardens neighborhood. EOA architects have also devised blueprints for scattered-site affordable housing in North Nashville. Mark Sturtevant, a private development consultant and former MDHA development director, will serve as project manager. The contractor is Elmer Freeman Construction, a minority-owned firm specializing in residential building.
The angled facades and double windows of the eight townhomes fronting Eighth Avenue take maximum advantage of one of the best sightlines in the cityan unobstructed view of the State Capitol. The 22 units facing Ninth Avenue more directly address the street. Minimal setbacks provide an urban street edge softened by street trees and raised garden beds or common lawn. Between the rows of condos lies a gated alley, providing each unit with parking for two cars, a small lawn or garden space, wooden decks off the second leveland occupants with a sense of security. Front facades are of brick, with a split-block foundation and copper canopies over small balconies. Interior finishes include ceramic tile baths and a mixture of carpet, hardwood, and vinyl flooring.
The 8.9n site has lots of positives. To the east is the multicultural food court of the Farmers Market and the green space of the Bicentennial Mall. A Kroger and an Eckerd are within easy walking distance, the north branch of the public library and the restaurants of Germantown a few blocks farther. To the south are the offices of state government, the downtown campus of Tennessee State University, and the spires of downtown.
New development initiatives in the Germantown area are generally more upscale than 8.9n, but equally urban-friendly. Germantown Partners has built a block of new houses and duplexes on Fifth Avenue North, and is preparing plans for mixed-use structures at the corners. Charles Jones has begun to redevelop the Werthan Bag complex, and the McRedmond family will soon start work on a master plan for the redevelopment of the huge Neuhoff plant on the Cumberland River just north of Jefferson Street.
More problematic is the context to the west. Hope Gardens, a neighborhood south of Jefferson Street between Ninth Avenue and I-40 that has historically housed working-class African Americans, sends a mixed message. Since 1997, AHR and the team of Bank of America/Woodbine Community Organization have constructed a couple dozen modest but respectable frame cottages there. The homes are the kind that have been the backbone of Nashville's traditional neighborhoods for more than a century. MDHA set a small pocket park at the community's center, and has spent approximately $3 million trying to revitalize the commerce of Jefferson Street.
Other city agencies have been less supportive of this public and private investment. Many of Hope Gardens' older structures and vacant lots cry out for codes and sanitation enforcement. The site of a small NES substation on Ireland Street, one of the few remaining in a residential neighborhood, is strewn with litter and rubble. Despite the development of a strong neighborhood association, residents have had scant success convincing Metro of their need for a more visible police presencepreferably in the form of bike patrols. Some streets are paved with potholes; where sidewalks exist, many are cracked. Such lapses are particularly troubling well into a mayoral administration that prides itself on its commitment to neighborhoods. Every neighborhood is entitled to the respect of basic services and infrastructure. Hope Gardens is small enough, and self-contained enough, that a focus by all government departments, working in harness, could have a big impact.
Neighbors says that helping to revitalize Hope Gardens is a primary motive behind 8.9n. He notes that property values have gone up there in the wake of the new construction, "but the neighborhood hasn't really captured the imagination" of the urban pioneers. He and his team hope that the high profile of Eighth Avenue will bring more attentionand more investmentto the area. "All of us who've worked in Hope Gardens have wanted to redevelop [the 8.9n property] as a gateway into the community for a long time," Neighbors says. "In the typical phasing of development, we'd have started with the higher density residential that the Hope Gardens master plan calls for at the edges. But we couldn't exercise that option until now because of issues of land assembly and funding."
Because the land for 8.9n lies within MDHA's Phillips-Jackson Redevelopment District, which gives the agency or its designated developer acquisition leverage, ground breaking should come fairly quickly. Neighbors estimates that the first 8.9n townhouses on Eighth Avenue will go on the market in the fall. In the meantime, he's rolling his dice, and hoping to come up with a winning combo. "We're creating a product that's unique to Nashvillefor-sale housing [as opposed to rental units] in an urban setting," he says. He thinks that product should have special appeal to state workers, Fisk and Meharry employees, and downtown's younger professionals.
As one of the early pioneers into the once-shunned territory of East Nashville, Neighbors knows that revitalization depends hugely on perceptionthat an area is safe, clean, and a good investment for the home buyer. "We have to get people accustomed to being in this section of Nashville," he says.
For years, Nashville's urban advocates have been calling for a larger residential component in the mixture of downtown and the area framing the central city. And the best urban design mimics the original evolution of cities, as a mixture of land uses built by and for a spectrum of tastes, providing the fine-grained texture of architecture and the fusion of disparate income levels that suburbia lacks. The small proportions of 8.9n are a big step in the right direction.
You know... you can put any label you want on a can of shit. It'll…
@more cowbell (udingaling): You're one of those people who consider fair and balanced to be…
My biggest problem with this and the comments is that y'all keep calling it "satire"…
>The Republican-controlled Legislature in this state known as the buckle of the Bible Belt ..…
"We support fair treatment of employees on this project by contractors and Metro." This is…