South Knox Shelter

Will the old Flenniken school make the grade as permanent housing for 48 homeless people?

Dangerously close to the once-a-year March 19 deadline for filing for a 9 Percent Tax Credit from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA), plans to submit the old Parkway Hotel building for consideration as permanent housing for Knoxville's chronically homeless fell through when building owner Bob Monday nixed the deal.

But John Lawler, director of Knoxville-Knox County's 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, had another South Knoxville property that qualifies for the tax credit waiting in the wings: the old Flenniken school building. The organization quickly pulled together the paperwork so the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, which will ultimately construct and manage any permanent supportive housing, could substitute the school on the application.

A stone's throw behind the Parkway on Martin Mill Pike, the 40,000-square-foot Flenniken building could yield 48 solo units for the chronically homeless, along with on-site housing for their case workers. "Right now, it's vacant, and the city is working hard to keep vagrants out," says Lawler.

After all the hurrying up in March, the 10-Year Plan turned to waiting, not announcing its hopes for Flenniken for two months so area residents could hear about it first at neighborhood meetings and from First District City Council representative Joe Hultquist.

At Hultquist's recommendation, the community members who attended a meeting at the Vestal Community Center May 19 set up a committee to keep in touch and share concerns with both the 10-Year Plan and Leadership Knoxville; it will be chaired by Newman Seay.

No one will know until August if they'll actually need that interface—that's when the Knoxville Leadership Foundation hears whether the tax credit has been allocated. "These tax credits are competitive," says Lawler. "Our strategy was to apply for the set-aside for 48-unit buildings, since last year no one applied for that, but this time we were not unique in that category."

The THDA credit, if allowed, would be only the first of several funding sources. "For all our properties, we have set up an unusual challenge," says Lawler. "We're trying to go into operation without any debt at all. The clientele we serve means these buildings cost a little more in terms of operating expenses compared to other types of low-income housing. No debt frees up more cash for operation, but it means we will probably need four or five funding sources just for this property."

Corrected: Second reference to Knoxville Leadership Foundation.