Taxpayers Spend $1.7M On A Neighborhood With No Homes
By Ben Hall
It has nice sidewalks, a new road and plenty of street lamps.
But a North Nashville neighborhood is missing one thing -- homes.
The Metro Development and Housing Agency has spent $1.7 million on an affordable housing project located on Monticello Street, but ten years after buying the land, there are still no houses.
"They haven't been doing anything. They just keep the grass cut now," said Jessie Teasley as she sat on the front porch of her home.
She has watched as MDHA transformed the wooded hilltop around her house.
The agency promised to bring 36 affordable homes to the site using federal grant money.
"Obviously, it would have been great if we had brought this on-line in 2005," said MDHA's Director of Development, Joe Cain, "And had everybody moved in by 2007, that would have been the ideal thing."
Cain admits the project has stalled.
It's one of hundreds of stalled or abandoned projects across the country discovered in an investigation by Washington Post.
The newspaper reviewed how local agencies like MDHA spend federal money designed to help low income families buy homes.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Cain, "Why did this take so long?"
Cain responded, "We worked with a private developer to be able to get this on-board."
He went on to say the private developer eventually backed out, and now MDHA can't find a new developer.
MDHA bought the property in 2001, before the housing boom (and long before the current bust), and hoped to work with private developers to have it developed in five years.
But that didn't happen.
In 2008, MDHA spent $1.4 million more of federal money to build infrastructure like street lamps and underground utilities.
"The project is out there. It is ready for development and it will be developed as affordable housing," Cain insisted.
But officials with the Service Employees International Union, which represents hundreds of MDHA workers, say the project raises questions about how MDHA oversees huge sums of taxpayer money.
"They have a responsibility to make sure that taxpayer money is used correctly and used for what it was intended for," said Mark Naccarato with SEIU.
"It needs to concern all the people who pay taxes and the people who live in these developments," Naccarato said.
Jessie Teasley can't believe it has been ten years and $1.7 million and still no affordable housing.
But MDHA insists the money is not wasted.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do you think there will ever be houses out there?"
Joe Cain responded, "Absolutely. Absolutely, they'll be houses."
MDHA says the property looks much better than it used to, because it used to be a local dumping ground.
The agency is actively looking for a new developer but has not found one yet.