1998 Finalist
Shelby County, Tennessee
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards
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By the year 2000, more than 21,000 units in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee, will need rehabilitation. More than 18,000 vacant properties will need developing and over 71,000 households will pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

Building for the Future (BFF) is a countywide community development partnership developed to address the dual problems facing Memphis and Shelby County: affordable housing and criminal recidivism. The program pools the resources of 10 agencies to support its operation: Memphis City Schools, Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood Housing Opportunities, Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis, Carpenter's Local Union #345, Shelby County Public Defender's Office, First Tennessee Bank, Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development, Center for Neighborhoods, and Shelby County Division of Corrections.

The objectives of this collaborative are to build affordable housing for low to very-low income families, to give marketable construction skills to inmates so that they may find stable jobs upon release, and to keep program participants from reentering the criminal justice system. Since 1993, BFF has helped to revitalize three of the most distressed neighborhoods in Memphis by building 44 affordable new homes, has provided training for over 500 inmates, and has reduced the recidivism rate by 60 percent for program participants.

Working with BFF allows community development agencies to build houses quicker for less money and to place more families in affordable housing at lower prices. Homes built at costs of $33,000 have been appraised for $38,000 to $56,000. The houses are often built on non-tax producing lots that convert to income-producing property. Revenues from mortgages are recycled into BFF to provide future funding autonomy. An additional benefit is that vandalism is reduced because homes are vacant for significantly fewer days. The impact on the community is immediate. The investment in BFF has added $1.3 million annually to the county's tax rolls while providing homes for low to very-low income families who otherwise would never experience the American dream.

By the year 2000, 50 percent of the Shelby County tax revenues are projected to be used for criminal justice issues. The Shelby County Division of Corrections houses an average of 2,800 inmates per day and the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center holds 2,500 detainees. Eighty-three percent of all inmates return to prison each year, thereby costing millions in tax dollars to house them. As of December 1997, only 33 percent of released graduates had been re-incarcerated, compared to the 83 percent mentioned above. A recent report showed that, of 106 BFF graduates released for two and one-half years, only 19 percent were re-incarcerated and 67 percent were placed in jobs.