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Posted: November 16, 2013 8:30 p.m.

Covington Housing Authority has big plans

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Instructor Shamica Redding teaches financial planning skills to Ashley Derricho, Michelle Tate, Amber Bell, JoAnn Mireku and Margie Kellogg.

Some families have lived in the Covington Housing Authority’s public housing for more than 30 years, raising generation after generation in the federally subsidized apartments.

And for years, the authority’s focus was to maintain its 280 units and the status quo.

However, Executive Director Greg Williams believes public housing is supposed to be temporary, transitional housing for those who have fallen on hard times and are trying to work their way back to a better life.

As a result, he and others are adding programs to help residents improve their skill sets and prepare them for a life beyond public housing.

All about the authority

The Covington Housing Authority owns four different properties with a total of 280 federally subsidized housing units, the same number of units it’s had for decades and will continue to have, thanks to federal law. As of Oct. 1, 1999, public housing authorities are not allowed to increase their total number of subsidized housing units.

The bulk of the Covington Housing Authority’s units, 180, are located at its main complex on Alcovy Road, while the remaining 100 units are spread among three other locations, including Fowler Court (44 units), a senior-citizens community off Industrial Boulevard across from Mamie’s Kitchen; Holmes Court (32 units), off Turner Lake Road; and Taylor Street (24 units), off Jackson Highway.

The units at Alcovy Road are close to 50 years old, while the others around town are around 30 years old, Williams said, noting they’re all in pretty good shape and don’t require a great deal of maintenance.

The Authority has a variety of residents who pay a variety of rents. Some pay the minimum rent allowed, around $50, which is for people who are out of work or disabled.

Others pay a flat rent based on the location and size of the apartment they’re in, which could mean $250-$300 for a one-bedroom unit. The rest of the residents pay rent based on their income, including some who can afford to pay $500 or more a month, the going market rate for an apartment that size.

Tenants must sign a strict lease and follow a set of rules in order to stay in the units.

Under the federal "Faircloth Limit," housing authorities can only add new units if they tear down existing ones, and they can only tear down existing ones if they’re uninhabitable. And while that prevents the Authority from adding more subsidized units, it doesn’t prevent it from exploring other options to aid local residents who need a helping hand.

Turning over a New Leaf

Construction was recently completed on the $3 million New Leaf Center, which will be managed by the Authority and contain both affordable-living apartments and classroom space for workforce development training.

The center is located in the Walker’s Bend subdivision, off Washington Street, a neighborhood once in decline that the city of Covington and a private developer have invested in heavily to turn around.

Though officials had hoped the center would include more space for a business incubator — the current hope is this can be housed in future buildings on site — the center represents a major change in the Authority’s model.

The center’s units will be open to the vast majority of the public — there are income requirements, but a family of four can make $79,600 and a single person can make $55,750 and still qualify — but affordable housing provides a steppingstone between public housing and homeownership.

The rents are right around market rate, $550 per month for a one-bedroom unit and $650 per month for a two-bedroom unit.

The rents basically start at the level of the highest rents for public housing.

However, not everyone is prepared to deal with higher rents, let alone start planning for homeownership, which is why the Authority and city have put an emphasis on starting financial counseling classes.

Williams became certified in financial counseling and then hired Shamica Redding, whose nonprofit Energema focuses on helping people become financially self-sufficient. Redding’s been teaching classes for the past few years and recently kicked off a new, more intense program, New Leaf Visions, that is open to all Newton County residents but is a perfect fit for Authority residents.

"We want to create opportunities for residents who are motivated to (move up)," Williams said.

While plenty of Authority residents are older and will likely remain on fixed incomes the rest of their lives, it’s the Authority’s younger residents who can find hope in the programs being offered.

"Even if only a small percentage of residents take advantage (of our offer), and other residents start seeing people moving out because they’re moving up and they realize the opportunity is there for them as well, then we’re hoping that will start something and eventually grow over time," Williams said.

"A lot of people who end up here don’t want to be here. They want to be able to move out and move up, and some are taking the initiative themselves to go to school and look for any kind of job they can get to help them save money."

Williams said the Authority is exploring the possibility of starting a scholarship fund to help residents who graduate from high school with successful grades get scholarships for college.

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