Fondren residents started noticing several rundown houses in January with siding missing and a big, red "X" painted across their doors. Each day, more homes became vacant and began to disappear. Debris from the buildings littered out onto the front yards and made a general mess of the area.
A year from now, Jackson developers will have cleared the debris and built a large apartment complex on a total of 30 parcels of Fondren land. Bob King, developer and president of Triangle Construction Company, began working on the housing project in 2013. He bought several properties on streets Taylor, Oxford, Downing and Lorenz—just west of the heart of Fondren—and site work began early January.
Alan French, president of Real Estate Solutions, managed several of the properties in the area, which he sold to King in 2014.
Residents were "caught off guard not knowing what they were doing or who was doing it," said Sara Weisenberger, a coordinator for Our Fondren Neighborhood Association, or OFNA.
Perry Davis, who lives on Lorenz, told the Jackson Free Press in January that he had not been notified of the demolition, though it was taking place all around him. He is also concerned over how the tenants were asked to leave.
One family, Davis remembers, was forced to move out of their home on Thanksgiving Day in 2014. "It feels like a slap in the face," Davis said.
French did not return calls from the Jackson Free Press by press time.
When OFNA started looking into the development, they were able to alleviate concerns that the construction might not have been in city compliance. King has been working on the $18.5 million project for the last two years, obtained required city permits and followed necessary procedures, including posting signs, printing a notice in The Clarion-Ledger and holding a town meeting to inform the community.
In late January, the neighborhood association met with the developers and Scott Spivey of the Mississippi Home Corporation, which is helping to finance the project.
MHC, which aims to provide affordable housing to Jackson residents, awarded housing tax credits to King for his projects, which means that a standard one-bedroom apartment in the new complex will cost about $650.
"It's not the old HUD housing projects of the '60s and '70s. The housing tax credit program provides about 80 percent of new affordable housing being developed around the country," Spivey told the Jackson Free Press.
King will build six apartment buildings with amenities like ceiling fans, perimeter fending, tankless water heaters, and washers and dryers in each unit. Plans also include a business center, fitness center, security cameras and 24-hour security. LEDIC Management Group, based in Memphis, will manage the apartments.
Triangle Construction Company will also be using its own funding, King said, to improve the infrastructure on the project land as well as surrounding area.
"We all know about the city's woes that they have right now with their infrastructure, their water and their sewer," King said. "In front of our new areas here we're going to be replacing the city's water lines with new water lines ... we will be improving many manholes in the area by having them recoated on the inside ... also improving the drainage in that area."
Once Wiesenberger heard the plans for the affordable housing, and the fact that King will have to follow strict rules to maintain the MHC tax credits, she became more comfortable with the development.
The confusion in the community regarding the mystery development, Weisenberger said, "should have never gone as long as it did."
The lack of communication between developers and the residents, though, is not a unique problem. It illustrates the growing pains that accompanies housing development in an area like Fondren. Residents rose up against an earlier development plan by David Watkins, which he planned to call Whitney Place and would include tearing down the North State Street strip of buildings used in "The Help," now housing a locksmith, shoe-repair shop and other local businesses. Some residents started a campaign against the project then; the fact that neighbors were not included in the planning sooner was part of the outcry. That project has since stalled.
While the developers of the current project took the steps to post signs, print a newspaper story and hold a public meeting, all of those took place in 2013, when the project was just getting started.
"Because the application process is so long and drawn out, there's a lot of moving pieces, I think people didn't notice it back then," Spivey said. "People really started to notice when (King) had actually taken control of the site."
King told the Jackson Free Press that he will change the way he communicates with the community regarding development projects to gather more input from residents in the future "especially since they expressed their concerns now," King said.