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Posted: October 31, 2013 9:00 p.m.

New $3M workforce center complete

Applications to be taken soon for apartments

Gabriel Khouli/The Covington News

Construction finished this week on Newton County's newest workforce development center, a three-story complex in the Walker's Bend subdivision off Washington Street.

Workforce development is being discussed everywhere in Newton County as the means to a better future, and the community’s latest effort is a definitive step.

Construction finished this week on Newton County’s newest workforce development center, a $3 million, three-story complex in the Walker’s Bend subdivision off Washington Street. The mixed-use New Leaf Center has 28 affordable-housing units and a break room, two classrooms, and a large multi-purpose room that will house the county’s newest workforce development initiative — New Leaf Visions.

The center has been in the works for the past few years. It’s a combination of multiple initiatives, including the desire for more affordable housing, the city of Covington’s efforts to revitalize Walker’s Bend and the effort to help unemployed local residents get jobs.

The building has received its certificate of occupancy, Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson said. The Covington Housing Authority will operate and maintain the center, and authority Executive Director Greg Williams said employees will begin moving in soon and will take applications for the apartments.

Construction was handled by Fairway Construction, which has an office in Atlanta.

Apartments

The top floors and half of the first floor will be devoted to apartments, including 23 one-bedroom units, which will rent for $550 per month, and five two-bedroom units, which will cost $650 per month, according to Vinson. Apartments will come with new appliances, including washers and dryers, Vinson said.

The apartments will be open to anyone who makes up to 120 percent of the area’s median income;

Newton County’s area family median income (Newton County is in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metro area) is $66,300 and $46,450 for a single person. (The 120 percent would be $79,600 and $55,750, respectively).

However, 25 percent of the tenants must meet low-income requirements, defined as 50 percent of area median income or lower, which would be $33,150 for a family and $23,250 for a single person.

The units are not publicly subsidized housing and are priced at just below market rate, according to officials.

Originally, Williams said the idea was for the center to serve as a transition step between public housing and home ownership, and while some residents may use the apartments  that way, they are open to anyone meeting the income requirements.

For more information about applying for an apartment, call the Covington Housing Authority at 770-786-7739 or stop by its office at 5160 Alcovy Road, Covington.

"Everything in (the center) is first class. It’s energy efficient and all of the appliances and the woodwork, everything is done very well," Williams said. "I wouldn’t mind living in one of the apartments myself."

Williams said he expects the building to be fully leased quickly, given demand in the area. The Housing Authority’s 280 subsidized units currently have a waiting list of a year, and the private, affordable senior living complex Harristown Park, in Covington, was fully leased quickly and also has a waiting list, Williams said.

 Workforce development

While the majority of the New Leaf building will be residential, half of the first floor is dedicated to workforce development, and the classes and training that will be held there are already under way.

New Leaf Visions is a six-week workforce training program, jointly funded by the city and Housing Authority. It is being run by Shamica Redding, a former Georgia Power employee who heads up Energema, a non-profit that teaches financial responsibility.

The first class began recently at the Housing Authority with seven residents taking part.

The course focuses on "soft skills," those that "keep people from staying employed and getting the job in the first place," Redding said. Soft skills include conflict management, knowing how to give constructive feedback and understanding appropriate workplace behavior. Other training will be on work/life balance, money management, leadership, critical thinking, networking, body language, sexual harassment, OSHA regulations, dressing for success and résumé writing.

There will also be intense computer training, as well as manufacturing orientation training provided by Georgia Piedmont Technical College. Redding said there are nine professors and professional trainers teaching segments of the class. The goal of the program is not simply to create a more employable person, but to get jobs for applicants. That’s why the class ends with job interviews with local employers looking to fill specific jobs.

"We’ll have three to five employers come in, who are actually hiring, and they’ll talk to only these seven people. The employers will already have their profiles (from classwork) and (will) be able to talk to them, interview them in that setting. (The employers) already know going into it that these people all have the potential to be employees," Redding said.

The program doesn’t end with graduation or even when a participant lands a job. Each month for 12 months after graduation, an individual coach will meet and work with graduates to help them adjust to their new jobs and even prepare them for raises and promotions. The next class is expected to start in January, and Redding said each class will be capped at around 20 participants. She hopes to have four to six classes a year. For more information, visit newleafvisions.org, or call 770-728-6065.

 Final details

Vinson said the center came in about $60,000 under budget. Expenses were split between multiple sources, with $1.79 million coming from a state Neighborhood Stabilization Grant, approximately $700,000-plus borrowed by the Covington Housing Authority — the money will be paid back through rent — and $500,000 coming from the 2011 SPLOST.

The center was originally going to have a business incubator and more apartments, but additional funding wasn’t available, and Vinson said previously the incubator can always be built later and nearby. The center will be run and maintained by the Housing Authority, but Williams said office and maintenance personnel will rotate between the Alcovy Road office and the Walker’s Bend center. Because Housing Authority employees are paid by HUD to oversee publicly funded housing, work at the two locations will have to be separated and paid for out of different pots, Williams said.

As for the revitalized neighborhood, more construction is expected in early 2014. View Point Health, a state-run behavioral health program, is planning to build Clover Bridge Village, which will have dozens of units for VPH patients transitioning back into the community.

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