November 30, 2011

Preserving the past while investing in our future

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In the early 1900s, Minvilla Manor was a collection of 13 new townhomes near the center of Knoxville, Tennessee and the city’s growing middle class. By the 1960s, however, those same homes at the corner of Fifth and Broadway became the site of a badly converted hotel where crime flourished and few families cared to live.  Thankfully, the story of Minvilla Manor didn’t end there.  The Volunteer Ministry Center in Knoxville worked to preserve the rich past of these homes while housing chronically homeless individuals and families.

HUD and the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Volunteer Ministry Center as the winner of the 2011 National Trust/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation. Using creative financing that includes private and public funds, plus historic and low-income tax credits, the Volunteer Ministry Center collaborated with craftsmen to rehab the 13 townhomes. Minvilla Manor is now a complex of 57 studio and one-bedroom units of permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless. The units all meet energy efficiency standards, and the development includes offices and a community garden and gazebo. The project has also spurred revitalization in the surrounding community.

Minvilla Manor

“Special and irreplaceable,” is how Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, describes historic preservation like Minvilla Manor. At the same time, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said the development offers Knoxville “a safe place for some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens to call home.”

And the development is just the beginning. It is the flagship project in Knoxville’s Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and adheres to the “housing first” principle of stabilizing and empowering homeless residents.  From historic charm to present usefulness, the homes offer a national model of excellence for housing and homelessness solutions.

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