By Dave Ongie
Two years ago, the Johnson City Housing Authority purchased a plot of land tucked away between Legion Street and Interstate 26.
After clearing away four old houses, ground was broken and work began on the first phase of the Baker Court Apartments, a 12-unit development for homeless veterans and youth aging out of the foster care system. Last Wednesday, a ribbon cutting was held to officially open the new complex, which was made possible by a wide-ranging partnership.
The JCHA received $500,000 from the Tennessee Housing Development Authority, a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank in Cincinnati as well as help from the City of Johnson City and the Bank of Tennessee to make the 12 new one-bedroom apartments a reality.
Richard McClain, the executive director of the JCHA, said the complex was among the first in our area to address the problem of young adults aging out of the foster care system and becoming homeless.
“We have some tenants already moved in,” McClain said. “We have one that was a homeless youth and aged out of foster care. We have three other elderly adults that are also in with us today, and we’ve got quite a few more on the waiting list getting their applications processed and coming up with their deposits to get moved in. We’ll have them all filled soon.”
THDA executive director Ralph Perrey said the mission of his organization is to provide affordable housing for those with low to moderate incomes, so a project aimed at assisting veterans and young adults faced with the possibility of homelessness was right in the THDA’s wheelhouse.
“You don’t know how different it is when you get an executive director at a public housing authority that realizes the mission and the work is more than just taking care of the units that were built when Harry Truman was President,” Perrey said. “These are things that we put some emphasis and priority on at THDA. It’s one reason we’ve been able to put some money to work here.”
In addition to the $500,000 the THDA committed to the first phase, the organization has already committed $500,000 to the second phase, which will double the size of the development to 24 apartments. McClain said the City of Johnson City has also played a vital role in the project by waving permits and fees to help reduce the cost of developing the property.
“When you look at this facility here today, I never really thought about the fact that we had young teenagers aging out of foster care and then they find themselves homeless,” said Johnson City Vice Mayor Jenny Brock. “But imagine being able to live in something like this where they have a great deal of pride. Hopefully that will break that cycle.”