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Posted: July 24, 2009 12:30 a.m.

BOC chooses Fairview for rehabilitation

Newton County finally selected its partners for the Neighborhood Stabilization Plan, and the county’s process is going to be quite a bit more complex than Covington's.

The NSP program requires multiple steps: environmental reviews of all properties; handling and proper allocating of the grant money; proper appraising of all property values; purchasing and selling the properties and doing the actual rehabilitation or construction.

The city is handling the environmental reviews and grant money internally, although it may hire a new financial coordinator to oversee the program; the Covington Housing Authority is actually purchasing and selling the properties; and Habitat for Humanity is rehabilitating and building the houses.

The county, which is working in the Fairview Estates neighborhood, is handling all of these duties in partnership with outside companies.

The county released requests for qualifications for each of steps and the presented the returned RFQs at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting. Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin said the county is still planning to purchase its first property by late summer or early fall.

The County’s Partners

For the environmental reviews, which measure the environmental impact of construction, the county selected four companies: Dobbs Environmental, Envirohazard Consultants, Inc, Croy Engineering, LLC and Harry Walls Environmental Consulting. These four were chosen for the pre-qualified list, which means future Requests for Proposal for environmental reviews will only be sent to these four companies.

Sirotkin said the county needed to contract out the environmental review process, because in addition to rehabilitating houses, the county is planning to build a park. He said the county may be able to handle internally the individual house reviews, but the park review is much more complicated.

The county is also bidding out just the appraisal services part, because the NSP rules require special appraisal processes to be followed. Although many companies are qualified to do normal property appraisals, Sirotkin said the appraisals for NSP properties are a more complicated process.

Only one company responded to the RFQ for appraisal services: Walter L. Matthews & Associates. Sirotkin said he didn’t know why only one company responded, but it could be because of the more complicated process. The commissioners were not satisfied with having only one company to deal with, because the county would then have no negotiation leverage.

However, because county staff didn’t know why only one company responded, the commissioners decided not to reissue another RFQ, which could cause an unnecessary delay and instead directed the planning department to see if they could find any other companies that were willing to participate, particularly local companies. If other companies could be found, then another RFQ could be undertaken.

The final section for which the county released an RFQ was technical assistance, which consisted of grant administration, the process of making sure the county complies with all federal and state regulations in terms of money use and documentation, and asset management, the actual purchasing, rehabilitation or construction and selling of properties.

After interviewing and researching the candidates, the planning department settled on the non-profit Independent Educational Community Development Group as its partner. Sirotkin said the county chose IECDG because they could do both grant administration and asset management, were a local, non-profit company and were willing to sign on for a multiple-year timeframe with the county. In the future, the BOC will negotiate with IEDCG first and, if no agreement can be reached, they will then cotract with another qualified company.

In addition, Habitat for Humanity, which could only do asset management, was given the option of working on a specific number of houses if it so desired. A clause was also included that if DCA revoked Newton County’s NSP grant for any reason, all contracts would be cancelled.

Sirotkin said that once the DCA approves some further documentation, it will begin the process of reviewing and purchasing properties.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson expressed concern that many of the selected companies were not from Newton County; because part of the expected benefit of the NSP program is the creation of local jobs. Sirotkin said that the planning department tried to give local preference when possible, but the strict NSP requirements necessitated working with some larger, Atlanta companies. However, the BOC did vote to add the stipulation local subcontractors be sought out.

Working in Fairview Estates

The county will be working in Fairview Estates because of the high percentage of foreclosed properties; there are 20 foreclosed homes and vacant lots out of 150 total lots. There is also a vacant, 18-acre land tract on which the county wants to build a public, neighborhood-based park. The county wants to build the park in Fairview Estates, because it could be used by residents from the surrounding neighborhoods as well.

Sirotkin said the number of properties purchased would depend on the negotiated prices and the costs of rehabilitation. Out of the $1.74 million, $1.1 million will be used to purchase properties, and the rest will be used to rehabilitate properties and help families make down payments for houses.

Sirotkin said the county will only deal with vacant, foreclosed homes, not with any occupied, foreclosed homes, because of the Uniform Relocation Assistance act, which would require the county to provide temporary housing for the occupying families.

All of the $1.74 million must be used to help families that make 120 percent or less of the area media income, $85,400 for a family of four, and at least $435,000 must be used to help families that make 50 percent of less of the area median income, $35,600 for a family of four.

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