Last Thursday, Ginny Weatherstone (VMC Executive Director) graciously gave a few folks a tour of the Minvilla structure. Besides myself and Ginny, other attendees included architect Dan Schuh, City employee Robert Finley, Ten Year Plan leader Jon Lawler, nearby resident David Nix and Dept. of Community Services employee Mike Dunthorn. A few key points and/or observations that came from this meeting:
a. Complete project funding is not in place.
b. A final construction contract is not in place.
c. The structures have sat unsecured and continued to deteriorate since VMC took possession.
d. Approximate site/construction project cost will be ~$200/ft2.
e. The estimated cost of the project has nearly doubled in just 18 months.
f. Jon and Mike asserted that Knoxville is not out of the norm in having such concentration of homeless services.
g. Mike agreed to quickly supply me, via e-mail, with a list of cities, similarly sized to Knoxville, that have the aforementioned concentration.
h. Ginny expressed that because of her emotional ties to the project, it would be hard to abandon at any cost.
i. Jon agreed that if an alternative location at a much lower cost could be acquired, the project could be relocated allowing Minvilla to be sold to private developers.
j. Approximate construction time will be ~1 year.
k. New construction would be much cheaper.
It is quite disturbing to think that since acquisition, VMC has allowed further deterioration of this building but more importantly, our community should ask two important questions:
1. Does it make sense to spend ~$200-300 per square foot on apartments that are designed to be a "housing first" initiative for those just coming off the streets?
2. As we know, many of these folks have substance abuse issues so does it make sense to house those just coming off the street so close to those who are still on the streets risking a setback?
In short, wouldn't it be better to choose a more cost-effective option in order to help more people with housing first and wouldn't it make more sense to house these folks nearer better role models and service jobs to integrate them back into functioning society?
Additionally, at least two developers with whom I have spoken have expressed and interest in private development of Minvilla. Given this current situation, it is simply reprehensible for this project to continue unquestioned.
I sure wish my home was worth $200-300 per square foot...
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