JACKSON, Miss.—Pastor Samuel Boyd sat inside the Western Sizzlin off Highway 80 for lunch. Glancing outside the window by his seat, he noticed an old Holiday Inn rotting away. This dilapidated building sparked an idea that stemmed from his time serving as a pastor at Historic St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Orleans.
In 2000, the late Bishop Cornal Garnett Henning Sr. assigned Boyd to become the new pastor of Pearl Street AME Church in West Jackson, though the latter was not initially excited about returning to the metro. The move, however, opened up an opportunity for the AME church organization to begin doing work that they had already started in the Crescent City.
“In the ’90s, there were a lot of abandoned properties across the street from the (Historic St. James AME) Church,” Boyd described to the Mississippi Free Press. “It was blighted. It was bad for the church members coming in, driving in the church … and across the street, prostitution and everything would go on in there.”
By 1994, the church completed a $5-million renovation on the property, converting it into a 38-unit complex called St. James Homes.
Initially, Pastor Boyd wanted to turn the old property off Highway 80 into a headquarters for the southern region of the AME organization, but that plan did not pan out. But on the seventh day of the seventh month in 2007, at around 2 a.m., he received a message from God, he said.
“God gave me a vision to deal with possibly converting that place, if I could get it, into a home for seniors,” Pastor Boyd said. “Scripture tells us to write down the vision, make it plain and run with it. And that’s what we did.”
Sixteen years later, that vision is finally coming to fruition with The Pearl, a 72,000-square-foot affordable-housing complex for the elderly and disabled. The community will have 76 one- and two-bedroom apartments reserved for residents aged 55 or older and a health clinic—operated in partnership with the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center—that will be open to the public.
“It’s the prayer and work of this membership and the community buying into that (vision), and it is nobody but God moving onto the hearts of people to see what you don’t see,” Boyd said. “All I can do is just give all the praises under God to lead me to putting the right people in the path (and) putting the right people together.”
‘A Pretty Big Asset’
The Pearl Street AME Church has been a part of the Jackson community for more than 152 years. Pastor Boyd said the church was a recruitment station for the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement and has always been heavily involved in anything that can better the Pearl Street community.
“We talked about revitalizing Highway 80; Pearl Street needed to have a footprint in the efforts to wake that area back up and get it back going,” Boyd said. “We are a long way from waking it up and getting it going, but … it’s coming back. But it won’t be like it used to be.”
In the 1960s, Highway 80 bustled with businesses, hotels and restaurants. During this period, which was before the construction of Interstate 20, one would have to take the long trek through Jackson to get from Brandon to Clinton, making the area a very busy thoroughfare, Pastor Boyd explained.
“(With) development in the outskirt areas like Madison and Rankin County (and) people moving out into other parts of the suburbs, businesses quite naturally wouldn’t be as lucrative,” he said. “There was an economic shift due to people moving out of the Jackson area, and that brought business down.”
Today, though businesses still operate along the highway, various blighted properties pepper the path.
The pastor scheduled a meeting with Gulf Coast Housing Partners CEO Kathy Laborde, with whom he shared his vision for an affordable housing complex for elderly Mississippians.
“We’ve been working toward (that vision) all the way to where we are now. It’s a 76-unit project for seniors who are able to live on their own and we have special units for handicap and veterans,” Boyd said.
The Gulf Coast Housing Partnership received a $750,000 affordable-housing program subsidy from Trustmark and Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas to help fund the $28-million adaptive-reuse project.
“At the groundbreaking, Pastor Boyd mentioned that this was his vision, and he thought that this location, when it came about, was a sign that this needed to be done,” FHLB Senior Affordable Housing Analyst Mark Loya told the Mississippi Free Press.
“It is within his community (and) within the area of the church,” he added. “With it being a property that’s going to be targeting elderly and disabled individuals, that’s something that I think he was wanting to make sure happened.”
Boyd connected with Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center CEO Jasmin Chapman, and together they devised a plan for the center to operate the health-care clinic that will serve not only the residents at The Pearl, but the surrounding community as well.
“It’s also a health and housing piece. People may not understand that, but what I saw in the vision was to have a doctor’s office in that facility where doctors could come to the facility on certain days of the week,” the pastor said.
The Pearl will be the first Fitwel-certified building in Mississippi. Fitwel is a healthy building certification system, and those healthy elements will include the prominent placement of walkways and stairwells to encourage movement, FHLB Dallas explained in a press release.
“They’ll operate a federally qualified health and employ healthcare workers who are going to be serving not just the residents of The Pearl, but also the surrounding community, which I think in itself is a pretty big asset,” Loya said.
‘The Lightbulb Went Off’
The Gulf Coast Housing Partnership started due to the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought along the coast. The partnership develops affordable-housing projects through either preservation or creating buildings from scratch throughout the southern, coastal region.
“Over time, we’ve evolved beyond the development of affordable housing—we also develop commercial ventures, health-care ventures, but these are complementary to the affordable-housing work we’re doing,” GCHP CEO Kathy Laborde told the Mississippi Free Press. “And then, five years ago, we took over our property management.”
“That’s when the lightbulb went off,” the CEO added “I thought, ‘Well if we can combine Pastor Boyd’s vision with this community health worker concept, maybe we can elevate both.’ That’s how it started.”
Laborde says that embedding health care on site will result in better health outcomes for Mississippians. The goal is for people to be healthy and to alleviate the burden on the health-care system, she said.
“What happens is folks that are most fragile with the least opportunity to access money, they’re not gonna end up in the health-care system until they go to the emergency room, which is the most expensive place to get care,” Laborde said.
“We can meet people where they are and help make it accessible,” she added. “This clinic is not just for the folks living there. The folks living there are seniors. The clinic is for anybody. So we are hoping that it will have a dual impact.”
Laborde said GCHP has several ventures that they are finishing in the next few months to provide more affordable housing to Jackson. Despite having support from within the city, what they have collected so far is still not enough, she said. Everybody else has to get on the bandwagon as well.
“We are very committed to Jackson,” Laborde said. “We have two transactions in downtown Jackson that we’re closing on. We have a third one. We simply bought it so that we can preserve it for affordable housing,” she said.
No target date is set, but Pastor Boyd is hopeful that the affordable-housing complex and clinic can be open by late 2023.
To learn more about Pearl Street AME Church, visit pearlstreetcdc.org. Learn more about the Federal Home Loan Banks of Dallas and their programs at fhlb.com and about the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership at gchp.net.