Heights CDC adjusts community efforts during coronavirus

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 20, 2020 9:18 AM CT | Published: April 19, 2020 4:00 AM CT

The Heights Community Development Corporation is helping its community during the COVID-19 crisis, establishing a response fund while providing part-time employment for seven neighborhood residents.

The Heights CDC, however, has dealt with some challenges. Due to the virus, the group’s fundraising campaign for a redesigned $6 million park and greenspace has paused indefinitely.

Heights CDC creates COVID-19 Response Fund

Volunteer efforts and neighborhood cleanup also are on hold to accommodate social distancing recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — suggestions that limit groups to no more than 10 people.

“It takes a toll on the neighborhood when you’re not able to gather like you once would,” said Jared Myers, Heights CDC executive director. “It does impact community’s connectivity to be able to share vital information about what’s happening.”

On April 1, the Heights CDC, located at 920 N. Highland St., launched its COVID-19 Response Fund to assist residents struggling to pay their bills.

All funds provide emergency assistance for residents needing help with rent, mortgages and utility payments. The Heights CDC studies requests on a case-by-case before determining whether to disperse the funds.

The Heights CDC has raised $5,850 as of Friday, April 17, and dispersed $720 of those funds to neighborhood residents, Myers said.

“A lot of money has come from the community itself,” he said. “People from our neighborhood want to give, so their neighbors are taken care of during this time.”

Of the $720, $220 went for someone’s utility bill and $500 toward another person’s rent for March, Myers said.

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The Heights area has about 12,000 people. The North Memphis-based CDC includes Brinkley Heights, Mitchell Heights, Highland Heights and Graham Heights in the 38122 ZIP code.

The Heights CDC was the second neighborhood organization to create its own coronavirus response fund. Myers said the idea came from the Binghampton Development Corp., which launched a similar initiative in late March.

“We are seeing residents struggle with loss of employment, inaccessibility to food and household goods, and a rapid decrease in options for child care, transportation and internet access,” said Noah Gray, BDC executive director. “We know that many economically vulnerable individuals and families in Binghampton will now increasingly struggle to make ends meet.”

Binghampton Development Corp. establishes COVID-19 response fund

Through a Kresge Innovative Projects: Memphis (KIP:M) grant, the Heights CDC also employs seven people part-time at $15 an hour to help keep the neighborhood’s benches and sidewalks clear during coronavirus.

 The Heights CDC received the $115,000 grant from Kresge in 2019. Due to costs, seven people is the most the organization employs at this time, Myers said. Not all seven work the same shift either. Their schedules are staggered throughout the week to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Since the Heights CDC’s employees are working remotely, the nonprofit has started mailing newsletters to keep residents updating the latest neighborhood news.

Kresge gives $485,000 to help Memphis nonprofits, artists, musicians during pandemic

Since it was formed in 2012, the nonprofit organization’s main mission has been to renovate blighted properties and rent them to residents at affordable prices. The Heights CDC has also continually pushed and raised funds to add more greenspaces to the neighborhood.

A capital campaign to raise $6 million for the Heights Line, a 1.7-mile proposed linear park and greenway space on National Street, stalled due to the coronavirus. In addition to providing more park space and greenspace for residents, the Heights Line would also connect the Wolf River Greenway and Shelby Farms Greenline.

“Parks are in the news right now because parks are becoming overcrowded. People are needing to get outside and want to be healthy during this crisis,” Myers said. “Our neighborhood is park poor, and as we’re trying to raise money for this amenity in our community. We had to cancel a fundraising event. Our work for Heights Line has been struggling.”

The Heights CDC previously raised $500,000 in pre-development costs. Myers said the the group hoped the city of Memphis and Shelby County would fund two-thirds of the project’s costs with the remaining money coming from philanthropic efforts.

With the city and county likely facing tough decisions regarding its budgets during the pandemic, Myers is not expecting the funds to come this year — but hasn’t completely given up hope.

Any additional funds from the city and county would come through its capital improvement budgets and be included in the 2020-21 fiscal year budget.

“We’re hopeful that Heights Line would be included (in the budget), and we still may be, but it’s kind of hard to tell,” he said.


Heights Community Development Corp. Jared Myers Neighborhoods coronavirus Kresge
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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