Bringing Gentle Density to Memphis

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Jones told me, “My brother and I started out in the late 90s just like every other fledgling single-family home builder, trying to get rich out in the suburbs.”  They pivoted to infill after becoming involved with a HOPE VI project in Uptown. (HOPE VI was a federal program to redevelop “severely distressed” public housing along vaguely New Urbanist lines, in low-rise, mixed-income communities, in contrast to the stark tower projects of decades past.) This spurred the Joneses to start learning more about missing middle housing and small housing products like tiny homes and accessory dwelling units. After the development code was revised in 2011, they built the first accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in Shelby County.

In 2014, Andre Jones attended the first workshop of the nascent Incremental Development Alliance, held in Duncanville, Texas, and became plugged into a growing network of incremental developers and revitalizers across the country.

Jones’s focus now is close to home. And he has ample skin in the game: Malone Park Commons will be, literally, in his own backyard.

“I sold my car last summer, and my plan is to only work on projects that are within a 20-minute bike ride,” he told me. “There’s a lot of opportunity for redevelopment in the walkable neighborhoods that ring our downtown. We also have a new ride-share service implemented by the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Memphis Medical District Collaborative called the Groove Shuttle.  It’s a $1.25 a ride and I utilize it on not-so-great bike-riding days.”

Jones is bullish on what incremental development can do for walkable urban neighborhoods in Memphis. He believes that housing diversity and small-scale “gentle” density (Jones and his brother are building 35 homes on land originally designated for just six) can help attract more grocery and retail businesses to Memphis’s near north side, which has long been a food desert.

Jones believes his project also fills a vital niche in terms of affordability, that of “what I call attainable housing.” The area boasts new subsidized apartments for low-income Memphians, built with Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), and large-scale redevelopment underway just to the South, in the Pinch District. The modest units in Malone Park Commons, ranging from 500 to 1100 square feet, will be, at market rate, affordable to households earning 80% of the area median income.

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