KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Fourth Purpose Foundation, a Knoxville-based criminal justice reform nonprofit, will transform a historic motel into affordable, supportive housing for ex-offenders, called Dogan-Gaither Flats.
The future 16-unit apartment building is located at 211 Jessamine Street.
It’s the former Dogan-Gaither Motor Court. Dogan-Gaither Flats will provide housing, counseling, accountability, work placement, and transitional skills training to males returning to Knoxville from incarceration.
Fourth Purpose Foundation (also styled as 4th Purpose) was founded by Josh Smith, a Knoxville resident and former CEO of Master Service Companies, based on his own experience in federal prison before starting and ultimately selling his companies.
Through the 4th Purpose, Smith became a national advocate for prison reform and serves as a member of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force.
Creating Dogan-Gaither Flats is part of the the foundation’s purpose, according to Smith.
Smith said 4th Purpose bought the property, however Men of Valor, a nonprofit focused on reducing recidivism among ex-offenders through “encouragement, support, accountability, and training,” will manage the building.
Smith said Knox County currently has a 70% recidivism rate, and in the state as a whole, it’s 51%.
“People that come through this (Men of Valor) program, the recidivism rate is 10%, whereas in Knox County it’s 70% currently. So it makes a huge difference and gives a great opportunity for those that come through it,” Smith said.
He knows from personal experience why it’s so hard for ex-convicts to get back on their feet after incarceration.
“When I got out of prison, my wife lived in government housing, our children were on food stamps, and we struggled and fought. The day that I was released, we were kicked out of her apartment,” Smith said.
Smith said for about 17 years, he couldn’t rent an apartment, even when he had a good amount of money. He said many people take renting apartments for granted.
“You go and rent an apartment and you fill out the lease and you check you know, everything and they do a credit check and all that. What most people don’t understand is, there’s background checks,” Smith said.
With Dogan-Gaither Flats, former prisoners can rent half a bedroom for affordable prices in an area where Smith said someone could pay $1,200 for an apartment unit. Smith said the men can also look forward to very nice accommodations. Up to 30 ex-prisoners will be able to live in Dogan-Gaither Flats, with one live-in manager from Men of Valor.
Smith said he’s excited about the history of the building they are renovating because it’s almost like the history of helping people is making a full-circle.
“I think it’s exciting to know that now it’s going from one disenfranchised group, now today to be of use for another disenfranchised group,” Smith said.
According to 4th Purpose, Dogan-Gaither Flats is paying tribute to the historic Dogan-Gaither Motor Court, which first opened in the early 1950s during the days of segregation, by providing a source of redemption in an area with a rich African American history in Knoxville.
Fourth Purpose dug into Knoxville history and found that the Jessamine address was the second location of the important motel, that hosted patrons such as Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, and five Freedom Riders, after being forced to move from its original location at East Vine Avenue as part of the “Downtown Loop” urban renewal project that would become James White Parkway in the early 1960s.
In 1959, Dogan-Gaither was listed in a publication for “Negro travelers,” the Newark-based Nationwide Hotel Association Directory and Guide to Travelers; similar to publications such as the famous Green Book guide for traveling African Americans.
Fourth Purpose is contributing most of the funding to renovate Dogan-Gaither Flats, but the City of Knoxville is also funding $480,000 through the Affordable Rental Development Fund in order to help keep the rent and supportive services affordable for the ex-offenders.
Through the Men of Valor program, the ex-offenders will be living at Dogan-Gaither Flats for at least 12 months.
Smith said he hopes after the community sees what Dogan-Gaither Flats can do for the former prisoners, business and apartment complexes will be more willing to invest in the same people.
“Almost half of the people that get out of prison go back in. And we as a community pay for that. We pay for it with our dollars, we pay for it every time they violate it, somebody gets it. I mean, there’s all these things. We have to make an investment in criminal justice and things like this,” Smith said.
The groundbreaking for Dogan-Gaither Flats will be on March 5.
Governor Bill Lee and Tony Parker, Commissioner of Correction for the State of Tennessee, are expected to be there.
Smith confirmed that development of the property involves architectural and construction firms from the nearby neighborhoods. Sanders Pace Architecture, located in the Old City, is serving as the project architect, and Elite Diversified Construction Inc., owned by Randall Turman and headquartered on Magnolia Avenue is the project contractor.
The foundation is also working with TDOC to find ways to involve potential future residents in the construction of the building.
Smith hopes some of the ex-offenders who will eventually stay at Dogan-Gaither Flats can help build their future home.