KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — While the restoration project of the house at 523 E. Oklahoma Avenue may be the first time some people are hearing of Knoxville’s Homemakers’ Program, it is far from new. Since 1987, it’s helped rehabilitate hundreds of properties around Knoxville.

As of June 8, 2023, the Homemakers Program has 14 active rehabilitation projects, according to Kathy Ellis, a Senior Project Specialist with Knoxville’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Department. Ellis facilitates the program.

The Homemakers Program started in 1987 as Project Proud, which only focused on addressing the vacant lots and dilapidated houses that were in the Mechanicsville Neighborhood Strategy Area, Ellis explained.

“Part of the Mechanicsville Task Force Plan for the neighborhood entailed encouraging new homeowners to move into the neighborhood as well as new construction and finding uses for vacant property. In order to address these problems, HUD proposed the Homemakers Program,” Ellis said.

June 30 will mark 36 years since the Knoxville City Council approved an ordinance adopting the program and authorizing the acquisition of substandard houses and vacant lots in Mechanicsville with grant funds, Ellis said. This allowed ownership of the houses or lots to be transferred to prospective owners or non-profit organizations that would provide housing for low/moderate-income households.

Noticing the success of the program, the City Council passed an amendment to the program in 1995, making it much more like the current Homemakers Program. Ellis shared a copy of the ordinance with WATE, which explains that the program had some faults. Specifically, when the program started, it only allowed properties to be sold to prospective homeowners or nonprofits, the sales of the property from the original owners had to be voluntary, and there was no provision to clear faulty titles. In the ordinance, rules were changed to:

  • Expand the program city wide;
  • Expand eligibility criteria to include disposition to for-profit developers;
  • Expand disposition options to allow for the disposition of unbuildable parcels, such as through the sale to adjacent property owners or to support general community development objectives;
  • Modify procedures to allow the option of selection of buyers prior to the acquisition by the city;
  • And modify procedures to more clearly define how buyers would be selected, assuring uniform selection procedures for completing applications.

The issues with sales only being voluntarily and the lack of a provision for faulty titles had been solved in 1991, according to the 1995 ordinance, when the Blighted Property Ordinance was adopted. The document says that allowed the Better Building Board to allow for the acquisition of blighted, vacant residential properties through eminent domain. The process provided the mechanism needed to provide clearance of blight and abandoned properties and to clear their titles.

Ellis shared that since the Homemakers Program began, at least 272 rehabilitation projects have been completed. In addition to the 14 active projects, there are also 12 properties that are listed as available, although five are pending sale.

To learn more about the Homemakers Program, visit the City of Knoxville’s website. More information on the history of the home at 523 Oklahoma Avenue is available here. Investors Sean Bolen and Alison hardy also share more information and history about the home on the the Facebook page 523 E Oklahoma and on Instagram.