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Oakview and Clinton Avenues Bristol, VA
View from the corner of Oakview and Clinton Avenues.

"Innovative" Public Housing Not Available to Working Poor in Bristol, VA-TN

by Lewis Loflin

Sapling Grove Apartments, a complex of 26 apartments (13 duplex units) are located on Oakview Avenue, Buckner Street and Clinton Avenue. BRHA CEO Dave Baldwin claims these units "raises the bar for affordable housing in our community." According to their website, BRHA operates 401 public housing units. Among the units they have two high-rise buildings that houses elderly, singles and couples with no children.

Built in 2007, Sapling Grove includes brick foundation, central heating open dining area, tiled kitchens, garbage disposal, washer, dryer, dishwasher, range, and refrigerator. The apartments are aimed toward senior citizens and the disabled. Cost 1BR - monthly rent $355; 2BR - monthly rent $420. Eligibility is based upon income and they claim is aimed at the elderly and disabled. In other words the low-wage working people of Bristol need not apply.

But to quote the Bristol Herald Courier (June 11, 2008),

A third of Bristol's residents need affordable housing, said Mayor Jim Rector, and "public affordable housing is the way to go. In private housing programs, the only goal is profit, while public programs do what is best for residents."

There are two shocking facts with all of this. This is the first time a high ranking Bristol official admits to how bad it is here for many residents. But most of the help is aimed at the elderly and disabled, as long as it's federal and state money. The City has porked-out millions in corporate welfare for retail and restaurant development, while ignoring the appalling wage problems. That is the reason why one-third of the population has one foot in the street.

Corner of Oakview and Clinton Ave Bristol, VA
View from the corner of Oakview and Clinton Avenues.

But this new "low income" development was right back in the crime-ridden public housing area. Earlier City officials suspended operating a police station just down the street from this new project after a federal grant ran out. They refused to fund it on City revenues, but instead spent a fortune for new decorative light poles for State Street to impress tourists and race fans. But in the spirit of what the press calls "healing" renamed nearby Randall Street Express and Edgemont Ave. to Martin Luther King Jr. Pkwy.

Nearby the Landmark Group of Winston-Salem has converted the old Douglass School building in Bristol, Va., into 41 units of housing for seniors. Cost, about $4.7 million. The Bristol City Council voted to sell the vacant building for $350,000, then lend the amount to the developer. (They were out of nothing.) The Virginia Housing Development Authority has approved $287,912 in low-income housing tax credits for the project. A similar deal was done with another closed school, the result of families fleeing poverty and moving elsewhere.

These were also senior housing, not available to working people. The goal to quote Landmark, "One of our growth objectives is to target economically challenged areas of rural southwestern Virginia that are rich in history but need help putting their old schools and textile plants back into use." The project has been completed.

Homepage for The Landmark Group: for more information on Mr. Rex Todd. In my view they do some great work and this project like the Sapling Grove project enjoyed public support.

But that was not the reaction when Landmark was putting affordable housing for working people at Exit 7.

This is not to attack helping needy seniors or the disabled, but the refusal of City government to even acknowledge the wage-scale problems here. By admitting such a high number of people in need of affordable housing, Mayor Jim Rector has confirmed what critics here have known for years. We need to get wages up, not suppress them because so many profit from it. The alternative is continued out migration of young people and more poor seniors when this remaining population does retire. What will happen when the transfer payments and government grants end?