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The Tennessee Town Neighborhood Improvement Association (NIA) is one of 20 NIA's in the city of Topeka, Kansas. The Tennessee Town NIA was the city's first NIA, established in 1976. NIAs are composed of census tracts defined by the U.S. government that identify low- to moderate-income (LMI) populations and areas and are located within boundaries established by the city of Topeka. The city's Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development (HND) administers federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds that come to Topeka as an annual U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entitlement through and are based on those census tracts. Those funds primarily benefit NIAs.
The city, other public and private partners and NIAs work with those funds, along with local and state funding streams, to improve the city's LMI neighborhoods, which face challenges ranging from deteriorating/dilapidated housing to crime/safety, decaying infrastructure, vacant structures/lots, and lack of small business development, among other challenges.
The Tennessee Town NIA represents a historically significant neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas, Tennessee Town, which was founded in 1879 by freed slaves who migrated from Tennessee as part of the Exoduster Movement of that period. It was established as, and has remained, a proud, vibrant low- to moderate-income neighborhood that hosted the first black kindergarten west of the Mississippi River in the 1890s and the Scott brothers, two attorney siblings who argued the Kansas portion of the historic 1954 Brown v. Board U.S. Supreme Court case. Today, Tennessee Town features a diverse population of young and old and all ethnicities that wants to preserve its working class past and present as it moves forward.
- Michael Bell
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