Breaking ground for a new Dismas House l-r; State Rep. Rev. Harold M. Love Jr., State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, Dismas Inc. CEO Gerald Brown, Mayor Megan Barry, State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, THDA Community Programs Director Don Watt and RC Mathews Contractors CEO Walker Mathews. Photo by Charmaine McNeilly

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — Groundbreaking for a bigger Dismas House — most residents are formerly incarcerated — is leading to construction subcontractor jobs that could start next fall.

“We’re working though codes, finalizing architectural designs and will send out bids for subcontractors over the next 60-90 days,” Dismas House CEO Gerald Brown told the Tribune last Friday.

R.C. Mathews Contractors is the general contractor for the $8.5 million, four-story building set for completion late next year.

With 42 single- and double-occupancy apartments, including 72 beds at 2424 Charlotte Ave., Dismas House will still provide transitional housing and services toward employment and reconnection of families. Dismas House has been on Music Row at 1513 16th Ave. South nearly 43 years, housing 20 residents at a time.

“Everyone deserves a second chance, but fresh starts would not be possible without safe places to live,” U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) said at the July 11 groundbreaking. “I’m proud to support Dismas as it works to build a better Nashville.”

Assisting with Cooper were Mayor Megan Barry, state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, and state Reps. John Ray Clemmons and Harold M. Love.

“Dismas House will also provide opportunities for housing for persons who are not coming out of prison but are on the fringes of society when it comes to housing,” Love said. “When we talk about affordable housing, we do not mention that group of people; those … who, without good stable housing, might find themselves in prison.”

A physical address is important when applying for employment and, Love continued, “to restore voting rights.” Voter registration cards are sent to dwellings in political districts.

Dismas sold its 16th Avenue property for $1.8 million. It’s received a $500,000 grant from the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency as well as financing and funding from Metro Nashville’s Barnes Housing Fund, K Squared Consulting, Pinnacle Financial Partners, and Federal Home Loan Banks.

“We need about $3 million” more, Brown said. Codes officials raised questions about “what type of materials to be used; stick or steel. Steel drives up the costs” by $2-3 million, he said quoting architects. Dismas wants to restrict finance costs.

Dismas House was founded by Father Jack Hickey of Vanderbilt University who, in the 1970s, saw a need that’s grown from 300,000 people who were then incarcerated in the U.S. to some 2.2 million incarcerated now, Brown said. “We turn away 280 men a year.” Their average age is 45. A typical incarceration term is 12-13 years. “We take everyone but sex offenders.” With 300-some applicants annually, the new house will accommodate half or two thirds of the applicants as opposed to approximately 10 percent, Brown said. “Eight of 10 guys become working citizens and are productive.”

Dismas means penitent thief. See on the web.

Brown said the 4,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom Dismas House is antiquated, in an historic overlay and can’t be demolished. It’s to be remodeled and leased for office space.

The Tennessee Housing Development Agency is helping Dismas build new housing for formerly incarcerated people with a $500,000 grant.

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...

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