Development revitalizes downtown Jackson
From staff and wire reports
Helm Place, a new residential development surrounding the historic Mount Helm Baptist Church in downtown Jackson, celebrated its grand opening with state and local dignitaries at a ceremony and ribbon cutting July 14. Mount Helm Baptist Church is considered the oldest African-American church in Jackson.
The development includes 88 newly constructed, affordable market rate townhomes and a 4,000 square-foot community center. Each single-family home measures 1,520 square feet, contains three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms, and has an enclosed two-car garage.
During the ceremony several officials who played a role in the development of Helm Place shared their enthusiasm for the official opening.
“When our residents move in here, they move into a home they never dreamed they would be able to afford and provide for themselves and their families,” said Clarence Chapman, president of Chartre Consulting Ltd. Chapman’s company designed Helm Place with the needs of the church and surrounding community foremost during the planning and construction stages.
The tax credit program that Mississippi Home Corporation administered at Helm Place turned 30 this year, according to Scott Spivey, executive director of MHC. “It has been the most successful federal housing program ever.” Spivey noted the program does more than meet minimum requirements of building houses but it also invests in building communities through health, safety and educational seminars for residents. “That has a transformative impact on residents’ lives,” he said.
“To go with strengthening downtown Jackson by providing a safe place to raise a family, Helm Place will serve as an important piece of Jackson’s growing healthcare corridor,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “I congratulate everyone involved in making this project a reality.”
“Helm Place is an extension of our church’s mission to change lives that change the world,” said Rev. C.J. Rhodes, pastor of Mount Helm Baptist Church. “Decades ago, Mount Helm elected to stay in the Farish Street community and be a blessing to it. Today, we praise God for a long-term dream come true, and I am humbled Mount Helm took the lead in our neighborhood’s transformation.”
The pristine new development replaces vacant lots and abandoned or dilapidated housing.
Helm Place is one of at least three developments Chartre has created in the Jackson area. East Village Estates near the Jackson Medical Mall held a grand opening May 19. Timber Falls Subdivision was occupied in 2009.
Chartre had some specific obstacles in creating Helm Place.
One issue was that developers didn’t have “free reign” in the downtown area, according to Rhodes. “We had to build in-between houses. We wanted to make sure people (existing residents in the area) weren’t pushed out. Also, there was a lot of back-and-forth between the State and the City with the developer getting under the ground, (and) resurfacing the roads. Lastly, there were a lot of issues with historic preservation.”
Chapman noted other issues such as elevated porches on homes as well as the height of brick siding. “They wouldn’t let us do but so much brick, and we almost got into a court battle to getting it that high,” he said. “All the things the Historical Commission required us to do cost us about $10,000 more a house here. It made it a lot nicer house. Aesthetically, we would have liked a little different design on the bricks, but they made us put more money in the home, which means we have a better home.”
As for the next phase of Helm Place, which would add 70 homes, Rhodes is hopeful funding and partnership will come through. Chapman said in about a month the company should receive its last funding commitment, and then the next phase could begin in about four months.
Unfortunately, no new resident applications are being accepted due to more than 200 individuals already on a waiting list.
“This new development is another example of the transformation underway in Mississippi’s Capital City,” said Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber in a press release. “Helm Place benefits not only the residents in the area, but Jackson’s downtown as a whole. The foundation of a strong community is safe, attractive, affordable housing. We’re hopeful Helm Place will inspire other business and community partners to invest in Jackson and its citizens.”
Developed by Chartre in conjunction with the State of Mississippi and the Mississippi Home Corporation, Helm Place is designed to provide quality, affordable housing to families supported by low-income wage earners. MHC awarded the development $13.1 million in tax credits as part of the healthcare zone special cycle held in 2013.
The MHC tax credits allowed for construction of the 88-unit single-family lease purchase development. Under the program that made this development possible, the homes will be rented for the first 15 years to residents who initially qualify as low-income. After 15 years residents will have the opportunity to purchase the home at a $50,000 fully financed price. During the rental term, the development will be professionally managed with life skills and other programs provided to residents free of charge.
“This development is a shining example of how affordable housing is critical to revitalizing and invigorating communities,” said Chapman. “Aside from the obvious physical improvements to the neighborhood, we are positively affecting our residents’ lives by providing a stable community in which they can educate and raise their families.”