Memphis area state Sen. Jim Kyle took representatives from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency to task Wednesday over what he sees as their failure to address abandoned housing and urban blight issues in his district.
While many lawmakers from less populated districts commended the agency’s work in their areas during a Government Operations Joint Subcommittee meeting, Kyle expressed frustration that the THDA hasn’t taken a more active role in repurposing abandoned homes, which he said encourage crime and contribute to poverty because they drive down property values in already poor neighborhoods.
“This agency is not seeing urban blight as part of its mission,” the Shelby County Democrat told THDA representatives. “If it is part of your mission, you’re not reaching the bar on your mission. If it’s not part of your mission, it needs to be,” he said.
“I’ve got 2,000 vacant homes in one neighborhood in my district, “ Kyle continued. “And for some reason those properties are just sitting there. I’ve got people living under bridges and I’ve got 2,000 empty homes.”
Housing Development Agency director Ralph Perrey, who testified before the subcommittee Wednesday, responded by defending the agency’s work in urban areas, telling legislators that they have had success with smaller initiatives and partnerships but that the issue of urban blight largely fell outside the scope of their purview and resources.
“We are actively engaged with nonprofit partners, with the city of Memphis, with Memphis housing,” Perrey told TNReport following the hearing. “I think within the bounds of what we were set up to do, we have been very actively engaged over there.”
“We were set up to be a housing finance agency and over the years we have also become the state’s instrument for implementing a variety of federal programs in Tennessee but we are not the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Perrey continued. “We do not have hundreds of millions of dollars of appropriated dollars as the feds do to put to work in an area.”
Kyle, however, didn’t seem to be buying it, telling TNReport “They really need to change their minds on that or face a battle for their existence.”
“We have a Tennessee Housing Development Agency and we have a lot of vacant homes in urban areas,” the senator added. “They need to be part of the solution.”