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Posted: March 19, 2010 12:01 a.m.

City focuses housing in Harristown, Walker’s Bend

Officials exploring voluntary demolition program to help property owners

While blight is a problem in neighborhoods across Covington, city officials have chosen two neighborhoods to be the focus of their rehabilitation efforts: Harristown and Walker’s Bend.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program and recent purchases by the Covington Redevelopment Authority in Walker’s Bend have been well documented over the past few months, but the choice to focus on Harristown is more recent.

Efforts to demolish older homes and infill Harristown with new homes will piggyback off the $9 million affordable senior housing facility that will be constructed later this year by the Missouri-based development group Affordable Equity Partners. City Planning Director Randy Vinson said the redevelopment authority is likely to be the vehicle to build new housing in Harristown.

He said the city decided to focus on only two neighborhoods because it wanted to make a significant impact in each. City officials garnered that piece of advice while at their Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) retreat on Feb. 25-26.

"The housing authority director from Macon encouraged communities to really concentrate their efforts in key areas and grow from there. He said not to try to cover the entire city because then you’re going an inch deep and a mile wide and are not going to have a big impact," Vinson said. "We think we can help AEP and their efforts will help us. A year from now we think we can be having a pretty serious effect."

The GICH program is designed to help communities in exactly that way. The program provides three years of free access to a variety of housing experts from the Department of Community Affairs, Georgia Municipal Association and University of Georgia. February’s retreat is one of six the city will go on over the next three years. Members from Covington’s Housing Team, the redevelopment authority and the planning department attended the retreat.

Mayor Kim Carter said carrying out the city’s housing plans starts with demolishing older, obsolete houses. She is currently exploring the formation of a voluntary demolition program where the city would partner with the county and private businesses to provide free demolition services.

"We already budget for court ordered demolition, but if we could find a cost effective way for volunteers (to demolish homes), then we could begin to infill our dilapidated housing stock with newer, safer, and more energy efficient homes and apartments. It will be a public-private-government and civic partnership I hope," she said. "Our GICH team's theme focus is out with the dilapidated and in with the new in-fill, in-fill, in-fill. We are mindful to preserve the old that is salvageable. However, realistically, we have a large quantity of dilapidated housing that is sitting boarded up awaiting demolition and is not salvageable."

Harristown has an older housing stock. Redevelopment authority Chairman Frank Turner said Sandersville has a successful voluntary demolition program where the National Guard unit provides the labor for demolition.

Vinson said the city is also exploring more programs that promote weatherization of homes. Utility rates have skyrocketed for many residents during this historically cold winter, and Vinson said the city is exploring grants and working with non-profits who provide utility-related assistance.

Construction on the senior facility in Harristown is expected to start in June and will be located at the intersection of Lee and Reynolds streets. It will have between 60 to 70 units and rent will be based on income, starting as low as $175 a month. Vinson said the plan is to have a two-story apartment-like complex and townhomes.

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