By Jeff Keeling
The Johnson City Housing Authority (JCHA) is about to undergo its biggest physical transformation in more than three decades, starting with a building project that will create 100 apartments where 30 exist today, not far from Science Hill High School.
“This is the first major redo of public housing in Johnson City since the ‘80s,” JCHA Board Chairman Tommy Burleson said at the board’s Aug. 17 meeting, when it was announced that closing for that project and two related renovation projects was set for Dec. 17. “It’s going to provide some really nice living facilities for our residents.”
Funded primarily through Low Income Housing Tax Credits, the $13 million makeover of the Dunbar development could break ground as early as January, with construction taking up to two years. It will include 16 one-bedroom, 50 two-bedroom and 34 three-bedroom units, along with a 5,000-square-foot community building that will house, among other amenities, a Head Start program.
Regions Bank submitted the highest bid and purchased $11.33 million in tax credits recently, and the JCHA plans to take a loan of up to $1.7 million from Bank of Tennessee to cover additional costs – though much or all of that may be repaid quickly if the project cost ends up being low enough.
Near the Carver Development, Dunbar is bounded by Belmont, Robinson and Garden drives and John Exum Parkway. In addition to replacing Dunbar, which was built in the 1950s, the new development will replace nearly all of the Fairview development, a 70-unit complex in east Johnson City, which, like Dunbar, has energy inefficient, aging buildings.
DPKY, a developer from Gray, won the bid to be the project’s general contractor after a national bid process. Mark Markland, JCHA’s director of modernization and inspections, will oversee the project from the JCHA side. The complex will be basically identical to the Gibson Ridge apartments on Lakeview Drive, aside from the community center and Head Start.
Those extra amenities, JCHA Executive Director Richard McClain said, are included because the development will remain public housing, but will be operated under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “RAD” (Rental Assistance Demonstration) program. The RAD program, according to HUD’s website, gives public housing agencies such as JCHA the ability to leverage private and public debt and equity to reinvest in public housing stock.
With a $25 billion-plus backlog of public housing capital improvements, RAD programs have become one of the most common ways new public housing stock is being built. Though none have been built yet in the Tri-Cities, McClain said such developments are common in larger Tennessee metros including Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville.
“Because of the backlog of projects, this