Within the next year, a former Alton Park resident plans to build a $450,000 senior community that houses two dozen low-income residents who are elderly, disabled or veterans.
The development will include six new homes and is in addition to the 25 elderly and disabled people who already live at Rose of Sharon Senior Villa, 5410 Lee Ave.
Owner Sharon Kelly plans to add independent housing to the site.
"I want to bring vibrant back to a community that everybody else thinks is lost," said Kelly, who grew up in Alton Park on West 46th Street.
The median household income in Alton Park is $24,328, some $15,000 less than the average household in Chattanooga, according to citydata.com. And the community's crime rate is twice as high as it is nationally.
Available housing stock in Alton Park has declined, said Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson, and he's happy to see development.
"The more residential density in Alton Park, the easier it is to lure businesses there," said Anderson.
But Kelly remembers when Alton Park was home to doctors and teachers. She remembers when it had two-parent households and hardly any crime. She wants to remind former residents of the community's history and inspire them to work toward having low crime, strong families and no gangs.
"Sometimes you've got to go back to your roots, and you've got to develop the land and build it up so people will see and join in and re-create what we had here," said Kelly.
Kelly has owned the six-acre Rose of Sharon Senior Villa property for six years, but most of that land has been unused until now.
Contractor Reginald Jordan, the former Howard High School carpentry instructor who used students to build houses in the inner city, said construction will start on the first home as soon as the ground gets dry enough. As soon as the first is finished, work will start on the second, he said.
Jordan, owner of Infinite Construction LLC, estimates completing the first home by May.
Kelly has applied to build four homes on the site. Each will house four people, two to a bedroom. And she plans to purchase and renovate two duplexes across from her site for senior housing as well.
The homes are for people ages 55 and older who want independent living but need assistance, said Kelly. She has project-based vouchers to help pay rent for the eight people who will live in the first two houses. She plans to apply for more vouchers as other homes are built.
She will have a registered nurse on staff and be able to prepare foods and meet guests' nutritional needs, she said.
Jordan said the new homes are designed with the elderly in mind: They're small and energy-efficient, for low utility bills. All doorways are at least 36 inches wide so they're handicap accessible.
The new living space is the latest project included in Sharon's Senior Services, which started with Sharon's Adult Day Center in 1997.
She purchased Rose of Sharon's Senior Villa in 2000. She recalled the site was previously a nursing home where blacks were not allowed to live. Now she owns and operates the facility in memory of her grandmother, Annie Arnette, who paid for Kelly to attend nursing school before she died of Alzheimer's in December of 1991.
"I'm building a place where the elderly can live in dignity and have quality of life," Kelly said. "My goal is to take care of those who once took care of me."
Kelly, 58, said she plans to pass the facility to her children within the next two decades.
"I want to start thinking about the future of our community and passing it on," she said while sitting across from her daughter, Cheri Hudgins, who she expects to eventually operate the business.
"I'm able to pass this down from generation to generation."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-602-0574.