Collaboration changes the future of Frayser

High Ground News

June 18, 2014

The community of Frayser, just north of Memphis proper and across a wide alluvial plain from the Mississippi River, began as a suburban town built around a railroad depot. It was annexed by Memphis in 1958, and industry, in the form of International Harvester and Firestone, moved in to churn out giant red cotton pickers and automobile tires.

Those companies would eventually move out, taking jobs–more than 2,000 in the case of Harvester–and people with them, and leaving gaping holes in the landscape. Over the years, those who stayed or have moved in since have weathered loss of jobs along with a recession and real estate woes. It is one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Memphis, with some of the highest crime rates. The butt of jokes for years, it’s a community made up of still-proud people, many looking to rewrite its narrative from the ground up, from among its boarded-up homes, crumbling infrastructure and struggling educational institutions.

According to the 2010 census report, the 20 square miles that make up Frayser are home to just over 40,000, with a makeup of 84 percent African American. Nearly 20 percent of residents–the largest group–made $15,000 to $25,000 per year, and almost half of the population rent their homes. Forty percent live below the poverty level.

In answer to such problems, the Frayser Community Development Corporation (CDC) was founded in 2000 to act as a nonprofit revitalization engine for the area. In 2013, through a community-wide election, the Frayser Neighborhood Council was created.

The Frayser CDC has been buying up houses for renovation and resale or lease, and currently owns close to 75.

“We sell everything we can, but we rent and lease what we can’t sell,” says Steve Lockwood, Executive Director. “We work with families to try to get them in a place where they can get a mortgage to where we can sell them the house they’re already living in.”

The CDC recently received $495,000 from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, which will help buy and renovate 11 houses designated to be rented or sold to very low income families.

“We’ve tried to learn to be as strategic as we can about how to invest in housing,” Lockwood says. “My board, after years of discussion, we’ve been investing in the middle-ground neighborhoods, the tipping point neighborhoods in Frayser.”

In such areas, the CDC will typically buy the worst house on the block, putting resources and about $45,000 into renovations.

“It becomes the best house on the street, and then we put a strong working family in there, and we think it changes the whole street,” Lockwood says. “We can prove that it changes the tax base for the whole area because an abandoned, blighted house hurts the value.”

Even in this deflated market, Lockwood says they’re able to sell houses for $60,000 in a neighborhood where the average sale price is around $27,000 . . . (read more)