By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – State and local officials, business leaders and residents gathered with Highland Residential Services (HRS) to celebrate the start of renovations on Walnut Village, an 80-unit housing complex for senior citizens and people with disabilities.
HRS partnered with LHP Capital of Knoxville, Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA), First Tennessee Housing Corporation and Raymond James Financial to secure the estimated $5 million in funding necessary to redevelop the apartments while preserving their affordability status under federal guidelines. HRS will continue to own and manage the apartments.
HRS Executive Director Dow Harris recognized former Cookeville Mayor Bobby Davis as “one of the founding fathers of Walnut Village.” Davis was on the board that originally planned, designed and built Walnut Village. He was also active in planning its restoration.
“The vision for Walnut Village began in the mid 1970’s and by the end of 1979, Walnut Village, Inc. began housing low income seniors and people with disabilities,” said Harris. “It has proved to be a most successful subsidized housing program and that’s good news for our community. We’re very excited about these renovations and this redevelopment will not only modernize these apartments, but it will enable Walnut Village II, LP to continue that trend well into the future.”
HRS has always been ahead of the curve in the design of its housing. Walnut Village was a prime example.
Board member Jim Martin, who is originally from Memphis, said that throughout the years he would often take visitors around town and challenge them to point out any public housing if they saw it.
“Nobody could do it because they look like normal units,” said Martin.
Those thoughts were echoed by Robert Owens the new chair of the HRS board.
“When you are somewhere else, and you look at public housing and you compare that to what we have in our area and in our region, led by formerly the housing authority, now Highlands Residential, it’s just not the same, it’s different,” said Owens. “What we have here is a little more special and it’s because of Dow, Chris and a lot of the folks that we have that work for Highlands Residential Services.”
“The renovations at Walnut Village will be extensive. About $55,000 will be spent remodeling each unit, according to Alvin Nance, CEO, LHP Development and Craig Cobb, Vice President, LHP Development.
“It’s pretty much a complete interior renovation – new bathtubs, new bathrooms, new flooring, new kitchen cabinets, new appliances,” said HRS Director of Operations Chris Cassetty. “We are adding a washer and dryer and adding a dishwasher that we’ve never had.
“It’s a complete exterior renovation,” added Cassetty. “The siding is going away, and we’ll be going up with hardy plank siding, so the footprint of the building doesn’t change but pretty much everything else is going to get an extreme makeover.”
The residents of Walnut Village are excited about the renovations and several were in attendance at the ground breaking.
“Today really is an exciting day and what I am most pleased about are the people that live here, you are here,” said Denise McBride, THDA industry and government affairs liaison. “This is for you. This is the investment that Highland Residential, as well as LHP, has made in you. I’m really pleased on behalf of THDA when we see that kind of investment in the community.”
“This is exciting,” said Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton. “You all have seen what we’ve done with downtown, and to me this is just another part of that redevelopment of downtown since it’s so close. It’s going to be great for our seniors and our disabled folks. The city always wants to be a partner and help those that need help and can’t help themselves sometimes and need just that little bit extra. And it being close to downtown I’m excited to see what this is going to mean for our city.”
“This is going to improve the quality of life for the senior citizens and create a better living environment for every resident,” said Nance. “Affordable housing is the foundation for a strong community and at LHP we see projects like Walnut Village completely transform a neighborhood.”
According to Cassetty, every resident will have the opportunity to move back into the unit they were in before we started the renovation. HRS will be doing eight to 12 units at a time so not everyone is moving out at one time and back in at once.
The contractor for the project is Blaine Construction and the renovation estimated completion date is April 2020. The Walnut Village renovation is phase one of HRS’s long-term strategic plan to improve the availability of quality housing opportunities for families and senior citizens with limited incomes.
Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter credited HRS and its board for bringing together all the partners in this project and for the agency’s success.
“It’s all these organizations and people coming together and doing something that is going to better our community,” said Porter. “This is a great campus you have here of these houses, it’s going to be even better. We have a great housing authority here in Cookeville. I’m very proud of you on the board and I want to say congratulations to Dow, the board and everyone here on what’s coming up. This is going to be great.”