UT Heads Knoxville Inner City Homes Project

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee is teaming with local high schools, community leaders and the UT Foundation to build homes in low income, inner city neighborhoods in Knoxville.

Chancellor Loren Crabtree said the first in a series of planned homes recently was completed on Dameron Avenue, directly across the street from the Wesley House.

“Several players at UT and in the Knoxville community have come together to bring this project to fruition,” Crabtree said. “The faculty, staff and administration at UT are committed to furthering partnerships between UT and the Knoxville community.”

Theotis Robinson, UT vice president for Equity and Diversity, said the housing initiative seeks to merge aesthetic quality with affordability in the design to invigorate inner city neighborhoods.

“We are trying to get people to invest back in the inner city,” Robinson said. “This is a high-quality structure that will hold its value, and anyone would be proud to call it their home.

“Building this house is just the first step in establishing more partnerships with Knoxville’s urban community.”

Strong support from the UT Foundation is spearheaded by a $25,000 gift from Foundation President Jim Haslam, Robinson said.

“The monetary contributions and moral support from Jim Haslam and the UT Foundation have been critical in making this effort successful,” Robinson said. “We sincerely thank them and look forward to their continued involvement in similar projects in the future.”

Other contributions to the project include: labor provided by Austin East High School students; site supervision by Carter High School faculty; arrangement of the sale of the house and other support from the Knoxville Leadership Foundation; and design and construction leadership from students and faculty of UT’s College of Architecture.

Future plans may include homes in East Knoxville and off-campus UT classrooms in urban neighborhoods, Robinson said.

Architecture Professor David Fox said the initiative, modeled after a similar effort he headed in Chattanooga, provides valuable learning experience for the high school students and UT architecture students involved.

“Students can take the theory they learn in the classroom and apply it to some really tough decisions on a job site,” Fox said. “The high school kids become better prepared for college or trade school.

“Also, if they want to follow up on some of the other issues the project looks at, they get a good background for that.”

The “other issues” include civil rights history, segregation, and wealth disparity between black and white families, Fox said.

“A lot of that (wealth) disparity is in the housing. We want to address that part of the equation,” Fox said. “One of the things we want to do philosophically is to build wealth.

“We want to go back in and build a better house, one that is high-quality and distinctive but affordable, with design elements that will appreciate in value over time.”

The 1,300 square-foot home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and notable design aspects — such as energy-efficient materials, attractive decks, and an open floor plan — that add value, Fox said.

Knoxville Leadership Foundation is accepting applications from eligible families to purchase the home. KLF President Chris Martin said the home’s appraised value is more than $80,000. He hopes to see a family moving in this fall.

“Our mission is to connect communities of resource to communities of needs,” Martin said. “UT was instrumental in providing free design and house plans, which is normally very expensive. They also provided the vision and the whole educational component of the project.”