‘New lease on life’ for apartment complex

A public/private partnership may help some low-income McMinn County families achieve a new lease on life.

Ridgetop Apartments in Athens was purchased last year by Nashville-based Highmark Holdings, LLC, and rehabilitated with the help of financing from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA). On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and THDA Executive Director Ralph Perrey were part of a special grand reopening ceremony at the newly-renovated apartment complex.

THDA contributed a total of $4.8 million for the project, including $3.25 million in Multifamily Tax Exempt Bonds to the Health and Educational Facilities Board of the City of Athens, who in turn issued them for the project.

According to Perrey, one of THDA’s primary goals is the preservation and rehabilitation of older apartment complexes. Tax-exempt bond financing, which reduces developer costs, and the issuance of low-income housing tax credits are mechanisms utilized by THDA to achieve this objective.

“What both of those do in combination is give the private sector an incentive to do affordable housing,” said Perrey, adding low-cost housing is indispensable as part of a community’s economic development efforts. “At some point, it becomes a drag on your economic development strategy if the people you want to attract to your community can’t find good, safe, affordable housing.”

LIHTC (Low-Income Housing Tax Credit) is a state-administered, federally-funded program. Flesichmann’s role as Tennessee’s only member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee is integral in securing the funding necessary to support this program.

“We all know that an awful lot in Washington has not been working,” said Fleischmann. “One of the programs that has been working is this program.”

THDA’s investments in various housing programs across McMinn County last year totaled nearly $8 million, including the investment at Ridgetop.

“These units are going to provide safe, decent and affordable housing for working families in Athens for a long time to come,” said Perrey.

Projects like this help dispel the sometimes negative public perception of low-income housing, he added.

“The people who live here are working people doing jobs that need to be done in our community,” said Perrey. “They contribute to economic growth every day; they’re just not at the peak earning years of their career. They need and deserve decent places to live.”

Ridgetop Apartments in Athens held a grand reopening ceremony on Wednesday. Shown here cutting the ceremonial ribbon are, from left, McMinn County Mayor John Gentry; Bella Davenport, Asset Manager with Highmark Holdings, LLC; Dr. Maxine Gernert, Field Representative for Congressman Chuck Fleischmann; Ralph Perrey, Executive Director of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency; Robert King, Managing Director of Highmark Holdings, LLC; McMinn County Property Assessor Keith Price; U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann; Frank Peele, Senior Vice President of Community Investment Capital with Regions Bank; and Deana Pinkelton, Property Manager for Ridgetop Apartments.

Ridgetop was originally developed using the THDA tax credit program. The program carries a 15-year rent and income restriction period. When that initial period came to an end, Highmark purchased Ridgetop and re-qualified the property for tax-exempt bonds to generate income for property renovations. Highmark, in turn, assumes the subsequent 15-year restriction period.

About 30 percent of the renovation investment was supplied by Highmark and its financial partner, Regions Bank. The remaining 70 percent came in the form of a loan from the bond issuance.

“The nice thing about sticking with a similar THDA program is that the families that were already here were able to remain here,” said Robert King, managing director of Highmark Holdings.

Renovations at Ridgetop Apartments, located at 2009 Layman Road, included repairs to exteriors of the buildings, new heating and air conditioner units, parking lot repairs, landscaping additions and various interior upgrades. The apartment complex serves families making 60 percent or less than the local median income.