Minvilla Manor is an historic rehab of the former 5th Avenue Motel into 57 units of permanent supportive housing. Minvilla will be owned and operated by Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC), and supports the objectives of the Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness (TYP).
Minvilla was originally built in 1913 as thirteen townhouses. According to Knox Heritage,
In 1913, when Minvilla was built, Knoxville’s residents were continuing a 20- to 30-year process of moving away from downtown Knoxville, where the first residences had been. The development was on the streetcar line that led from downtown Knoxville to Fountain City and was surrounded by residential structures. The two-story brick row houses, with their elegantly shaped front bays and large windows overlooking the busy street, must have seemed like very sophisticated housing. They were located in an area with other residential development, near the churches and shopping that lined this section of North Broadway. As development continued to spread away from the central city, these buildings were converted to office uses. By the 1960s, a concrete block, one story façade was installed and the buildings were renamed the Fifth Avenue Motel.
As the Fifth Avenue Motel, Minvilla became notorious for illegal activity like prostitution and drug dealing. The structure also became the victim of neglect, and fell into disrepair.
VMC Acquisition & Preservation
In 2002 the City of Knoxville condemned the structure, and an historic overlay was placed on the building to prevent its demolition. (This action came at a time when many in Knoxville were disturbed by the demolition of buildings that were architecturally and/or historically significant. Knox Heritage and other organizations sought to protect these structures through historic preservation.) Over the next three years, several developers considered market-rate housing or commercial use projects for Minvilla, but could not make their numbers work.
In fact, so intent was the City of making something good out of the Fifth Avenue Motel that it made almost half a million dollars in CDGB funds available to the developer who would come forward with a viable proposal for its rehabilitation. Those funds were not initially directed towards any particular developer, agency, or anyone else in particular. Even with this incentive, developers could not make the numbers work on a market rate project at the Fifth Avenue Motel.
VMC came forward with the only viable plan that has been put on the table to date. They proposed using the CDBG funds along with $400,000 raised from other sources, plus Historic Tax Credits and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to create affordable housing at the Fifth Avenue Motel. Their developer at that time, who had extensive experience developing affordable housing, assembled the complex funding package, the only viable one anyone has yet to bring forward.
So, in March 2006, VMC used $132,000 of that $460,000 CDGB grant from the City of Knoxville to purchase Minvilla. VMC will renovate the historic structure to provide permanent supportive housing in alignment with the Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. Again, VMC’s project is feasible because it will develop low-income housing at Minvilla, which makes it eligible for both historic tax credits and low income housing tax credits.
Ownership & Operation
Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC) will own and operate Minvilla Manor.* VMC has identified itself as the agency interested in providing both housing and support services for those newly housed, and is the Ten-Year Plan’s designated agency for permanent supportive housing.
VMC has been involved in ending homelessness with permanent housing since 1992, when a Federal grant subsidized sixteen mod rehab units located within VMC’s current facility in the 100 block of Gay Street. These apartments are SRO (single resident occupancy) units and, under the conditions of the grant, are reserved for men only. Over the last several years, VMC has increased the level of case management offered to the residents and has found that this has dramatically increased the successful maintenance of housing for the residents.
VMC staff members have visited permanent supportive housing projects in Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, and Portland OR to learn from those who have established best practice programs in those cities. The result has been a strong commitment to the concept of permanent supportive housing as the most efficient and successful way to end chronic homelessness.
At this point in time, prior to the renovation of Minvilla, VMC places individuals in a variety of other permanent housing options ranging from KCDC housing to group homes to housing with private landlords. In all instances, case management services are provided to the newly-housed according to the individual client’s need. VMC currently enjoys an 84% success rate with clients remaining in housing for a year or longer.
While Minvilla Manor, which will house both men and women, is the only permanent supportive housing project which VMC intends at this time to own, it will continue to develop expertise in the provision of support services for clients placed at Minvilla Manor as well as clients which the staff places elsewhere.
In this November 2006 story, the News-Sentinel reported on VMC’s intent to rehab Minvilla into permanent supportive housing. The story discusses housing first as an effective approach to ending homelessness, among other things. It also contains what may be one of the earlier uses of the $3,800,000 project cost for Minvilla, and that number has continued to be one of the focal points of the controversy that attends the project.
Some people believe that Minvilla is far too expensive. Total project cost at present is estimated to be right around $6,200,000 with the developer’s fee contributed back to the project as a source of funds, and right around $7,000,000 with the developer being paid. Some of these folks believe that $109,000/$122,000 per unit is far too much to spend on permanent supportive housing. Others believe that the project cost has been “skyrocketing” since the time the preliminary estimate of $3.8M went public.
Some people believe that Minvilla adds homeless services to an area that is already oversaturated with them. This area, focused at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, is home to the area’s only shelter, operated by Knox Area Rescue Ministries; The Salvation Army; and the soon-to-be-opened headquarters of VMC, at 511 Broadway. Some argue that permanent supportive housing should be sited away from what some term Knoxville’s “mission district” and what others have called a “ghetto of despair.”
This website exists to help you understand Minvilla and how it fits into our Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, the disabled people this project will serve, the context of its high cost, and its likely impact on the area in which it exists and will operate. Our objective is to make a very complex subject as clear as possible, and to do that we’ll be as transparent as we can be.
Please engage this information with an open mind. Use the comments to ask questions so that we can clarify, and point out errors so that we can correct them.