© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Can Frayser Make Change With Federal Dollars?

By Candice Ludlow


Memphis, TN –

Memphis, known for blues and barbeque, has longstanding issues of poverty, which have been exacerbated by the national economic crisis. Since 2005, more than 21,000 homes foreclosed in the city. Now, federal dollars are beginning to come in to help, but is it enough?

Steve Lockwood is looking for a house. He gets into his Toyota pick-up on North Watkins to cruise the neighborhood.

"Look at the yards, look at the houses, they feel pretty good," he says. "There's not a lot of abandoned cars, I mean, socially it looks pretty good. You hadn't seen a whole lot of guys hanging on the corner trying to sell you something."

But Lockwood is not looking for a home for himself. He's the executive director of the Frayser Community Development Corporation. He's on a mission to find abandoned, foreclosed properties that he can flip and sell to lower and middle-income families.

"This is a grade B, grade B-," Lockwood says while scoping out homes in the rolling hills of Frayser. "We did that house. For our part, we try to do houses where we think we can sell."

There are neighborhoods in Frayser with failing grades, full of burned out houses and vacant lots. There are also A-plus neighborhoods with nice, large homes on tree-lined streets with shiny new cars. Lockwood works in the areas in between the two. The idea is to save a slipping street before it slides into ruin.

Federal money is just now starting to come into Memphis to help Lockwood and others who do work like him. Frayser has been hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis and that's where most of the money is going. It's also where Lockwood focuses his work.

"Ever since I've been here, I've been squawking about the foreclosures because it's been a really cancerous effect on the neighborhood," Lockwood says.

But all told, all of the money across all neighborhood stabilization groups is only enough to purchase about 250 foreclosed houses. And there are real questions about whether that's enough to save a city on the brink of disaster.

Craig Locke, who works for United Housing, knows it's an uphill battle. Not only does his name sound like Steve Lockwood's, but he partners with Lockwood's group. He thinks together they're making progress.

"We're in a really nice relationship to make a really good impact in Frayser," Locke says. "And I really think that putting responsible homeowners in safe homes with good lending products in some of these neighborhoods actually can make a positive impact and save Frayser."

Still, Locke and Lockwood are slim on funding and up against profiteers to acquire foreclosures.

"We're trying to beat out people who are buying them sight unseen and use them as rental income, and we want to put homeowners in them," Locke said.

The stakes are high, considering in 2008 there were 400 foreclosures in Frayser alone. That's not even taking into account the other hard hit communities in Memphis. Still, the community development corporations continue their work by acquiring abandoned houses and fixing them.

"Our goal is to, when we sell the house, we want to put these homeowners in a situation where they're not going to have any major mechanical problem with the house for five or six years," Locke said.

In the midst of this storm, Steve Lockwood sees a silver lining. Families can purchase a Neighborhood Stabilization Program home for a steal because they sell them at cost, anywhere between $35,000 and $75,000.

United Housing and Frayser Community Development Corporation have homes for sale, just not ones that have been rehabilitated with NSP funds. Lockwood says they're closing on a few homes soon, and he expects the first NSP to be ready in 90 days.

"The day I see someone move into the first NSP house that we buy will be a great day for me," Locke said.