Case Study

Envision Cayce in Nashville, TN

8 min read

Award-Winning Development Helping Nashville Deconcentrate Poverty 

If you used painting as a metaphor for mixed-income housing projects, Nashville’s Envision Cayce would need to be displayed on a very large canvas indeed. Perhaps on the scale of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And if everything works out the way it has started, people may well be calling it a masterpiece soon.

A neighborhood community more than a project, Envision Cayce is an enormous effort to replace 716 units of old public housing with more than 2,000 units of new housing, as well as commercial and community space in a multi-phased effort that is starting to take shape in the eastern part of the city. One of its phases, a low-rise garden apartment project called Kirkpatrick Park Apartments, has just won the prestigious Community of the Year award from the National Association of Home Builders, and it illustrates well the lofty vision of the developer.

Tax Credit Advisor featured Envision Cayce a couple of years ago (December 2019) with a look at a charter school being developed for the mixed-use community, using New Markets Tax Credits. A follow up on the housing side reveals a multi-faceted concept slowly, but surely, being implemented since a 2013 beginning, with Kirkpatrick Park Apartments and several other phases finished and many more in the works. The basic idea was to change the city’s oldest public housing project, Cayce Place, into a mixed-use, mixed-income development on a massive scale.

Kirkpatrick Park shows some of developer Nashville Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency’s (MDHA) key goals for Envision Cayce, a project that will cost multiple hundreds of millions of dollars. According to Jamie Berry, communications director of MDHA, the project looks to “deconcentrate” poverty with its mixed-income variety of affordable, workforce and market-rate units mixed in side by side with the Cayce Place renters.

Another big goal is MDHA seeks to not displace any of the current hundreds of subsidized residents of the Cayce Place public housing, built more than 60 years ago. And in its variety of facades and rather breathtaking beauty (there are 15 two-to-three story townhomes and stacked flats with 94 apartments in Kirkpatrick Park Apartments, for example) Envision Cayce seeks to get away from the sameness that marks out many public and affordable housing projects as drab and makes it too easy for them to be typecast outside the mainstream of their municipalities.

“What we’re doing is replacing, one for one, all of the public housing units, and adding new affordable, workforce and market-rate units,” says Berry. And building the units in phases allows MDHA to make new housing for its public housing residents without displacing any of them until it is time to move into a new unit.

Envision Cayce “must be one of the largest public housing redevelopments in the country,” according to architect Hunter Gee of Smith Gee Studio, who was involved in the original planning of the vast project, designed Kirkpatrick Park Apartments, and is designing an upcoming phase currently called Boscobel IV.

The Kirkpatrick Park Apartments are beautiful because they were designed to be competitive in Nashville’s hot market-rate arena, according to Gee. MDHA approached his firm, he says, because they had done a lot of market-rate housing, and they wanted that perspective for Kirkpatrick Park Apartments. There isn’t any difference between the homes inside or out, whether the tenants are affordable, workforce or market-rate.

Same Amenities for Everyone
“Everyone’s getting the same quality product, regardless of their income,” Gee says. Nor will they be segregated according to income, but the three niches will exist mixed in together.

It wasn’t too hard to improve on the aesthetics of the original Kirkpatrick Park, Gee notes, as it was completely enclosed by a chain link fence. “It was not a great park,” he says, with few houses facing it to give “eyes on the park.”

Gee, a resident of East Nashville himself, is invested in this because it is in his neighborhood, and he expects to be doing more design work for the project as it goes along.

Both Gee and Berry emphasized the enormous amount of community input, dozens of meetings, that has gone into the planning of Envision Cayce, even during the COVID pandemic.

Financing for the Kirkpatrick Park Apartments development is from a Federal Housing Administration 221(d)4 multifamily loan, HUD HOME funding and money from Nashville’s Capital Improvements Budget, according to MDHA. Other Envision Cayce developments have also used Low Income Housing Tax Credits and will again, according to Berry. Gee and Berry say Envision Cayce would not have been possible without the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. MDHA converted its entire portfolio of Section 8 public housing to Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) under the RAD program. RAD allows MDHA to hold the declaration of trust on its properties and gives the Agency authority to mortgage it and make much-needed capital improvements and rebuild aging structures. Without RAD, MDHA would not have been able to move forward with Envision Cayce. HUD will also continue to provide the subsidy for the now PBRA apartments.

Kirkpatrick Park Apartments, which opened in 2019, has been awarded the NAHB Multifamily Pillars of the Industry Community of the Year Award, as well as a Charter Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism. NAHB also gave it the Best Low Rise Garden Apartment Community award.

Judges for the NAHB award were highly complementary about Kirkpatrick Park. One commented, “Kirkpatrick Park Apartments will be a trailblazer, a template for communities across the country, which are struggling to redevelop and repurpose aging, obsolete and blighted public housing stock built in the 1950s to 1980s.”

Another judge said, “The level of commitment to building a neighborhood is rare. The neighborhood created is tremendous. The variety of forms and colors is terrific. Feels like it has been there a long time,” while a third called the project “a highly impressive mixed-income residential project, especially given the diversity of stakeholders, funding sources, neighborhood characteristics and target residents.”

A Tripling of Units
Housing density was increased in order to allow more mixing of incomes, NAHB notes. The original Cayce Place had 716 units, while the completed Envision Cayce is set for 2,390 apartments, a tripling of capacity. An additional 33 acres will be added to the project’s current 63 to enable the increase.

In addition to the units, Kirkpatrick Park Apartments contains two pocket parks and what is called a woonerf, a pedestrian street.

Unit amenities include open floor plans, stainless steel appliances, solid surface countertops, wood cabinets, ceiling fans in bedrooms, tile backsplashes in kitchens and bathrooms, video doorbells, designer colors and private entries. Select units have balconies, double vanities, walk-in closets and attached garages, says NAHB, which notes all the buildings are designed to LEED for Homes Silver standards. (In keeping with the overall theme, all unit amenities are the same quality, whatever the income niche.)

Construction was by R.G. Anderson Co., while Smith Gee Studio contributed the design, which included much consultation from Cayce Place residents.

The master plan for Envision Cayce runs to more than 100 pages, with an additional 29 given over to the project’s design guidelines and 41 more to the Cayce Community Campus master plan, which is for a mix of civic uses and green space.

To date, multiple phases of the mixed-use, mixed-income project have been completed. According to MDHA, besides Kirkpatrick Park, they include Barrett Manor, a four story, 70 one-bedroom development started in 2015, with residents moving in in 2017. Berry says nearly 500 units have been built in total, with the whole number being a process that will take more than ten years.

MDHA also acquired an adjacent property, CWA Plaza Apartments, 254 units of HUD project-based rental assistance units, in 2014. Gee points to this property, which had been owned by the Communication Workers of America, as helping connect Envision Cayce to the mainstream of East Nashville, giving it some frontage on a couple of major corridors, including an interstate.

More Phases Open
More recent phases completed include Mosely on 6th, three four-story buildings with 96 all-income units, and Manning Place, which has two apartment buildings and 13 townhomes for a total of 101 all-income units. These were built by Hardaway Construction and designed by Kline Swinney Associates.

A third recent project is Red Oak Flats, a four-story building of 102 units, built by R.G. Anderson Co. and designed by EOA Architects.

Plans for non-residential construction at the project envision a new health center, pharmacy, grocery, school, library and retailers. As part of MDHA’s commitment to the community, an elaborate park, with many shade trees, is about to be designed, says Berry, and is in a central part of the development. “I hope it functions as a backyard for all our residents,” Berry says.

Tax Credit Advisor reported on the financing of the charter school with New Markets Tax Credits in 2019. Called Explore! Community School, it has been planned for 800 students and was financed by SunTrust and a couple of nonprofits. Total financing came to $29 million.

Despite the vast scope of the project and its many moving parts, “It’s really worked well,” says Berry. “It’s pretty special.”

And Gee agrees with her. “This is one of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever been involved with,” he says.

Story Contacts:
Hunter Gee, Principal, Smith Gee Studio, Nashville,

Jamie Berry, Communications Director, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Nashville,

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.