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Posted: July 26, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Mayor: Improving housing a 'top priority'

City applying for Fed. grant

Mayor Kim Carter and other city officials have made it clear that improving Covington’s housing situation is a top priority. With the city’s newly created Urban Redevelopment Plan in hand and the corresponding Covington Redevelopment Auth-ority in the process of being formed, city officials are confident they’ll now be in line for more state and federal funding and support.

That’s why the city is once again applying for the coveted Georgia Initiative for Community Housing grant; a three-year grant, which doesn’t provide money, but instead provides free access to a variety of housing experts who help city officials turn their housing improvement goals into reality.

Experts come from the Department of Community Affairs, University of Georgia and Georgia Municipal Association and provide assistance in several areas: further developing the city’s housing plan, educating and training the local housing team, identifying and helping access housing grants and programs and actually beginning to improve the city’s housing situation.

The city applied last year, but it wasn’t prepared for the application process. Grant applicants are required to preliminarily identify their housing needs, members of its housing team and the community’s existing resources for solving housing problems. Mayor Kim Carter said that last year the application was hastily put together, but this year the city has a URP identifying the housing needs and current and future resources. In addition, the Covington Housing Team, which was formed last year, now is a solidly formed group with several meetings under its belt.

City Senior Planner Michelle Larsen presented information about the GICH grant to the housing team at its Thursday meeting and informed them that the application was coming along in preparation for the Sept. 4 deadline.

Larsen said in preparation for this year’s application she and former Planning Director Shelley Steibling visited the small town of Sandersville, located between Macon and Augusta, to see why that city received a GICH grant and Covington did not. Larsen said Sandersville had taken a strong substandard housing and had demolished many of those properties, preferring to be left with vacant lots instead of substandard houses.

Although Covington hasn’t demolished many properties, Carter said the city’s URP and its effort to inventory the housing in some of the more blighted neighborhoods should give the city a good chance to get a GICH grant. Between four and six of the grants are given out each November.

"The URP shows we’re really serious about this grant. If we get it then the housing team’s efforts will really begin to intensify," Carter said.

Housing Team Member Frank Turner Jr. said that without the GICH grant the team just has a bunch of ideas without guidance. He also said Covington needed the URP and needs the grant not to be revolutionary, but simply to get on pace with it’s peers.

"Monroe, Washington, Milledgeville, they all have these. We’re just trying to catch up," Turner said.

In related efforts, Carter said that Planning Director Randy Vinson has already been seeking out all kinds of different grants. City Manager Steve Horton said he’s been researching the stimulus money available for people to weatherize their homes and make them more energy efficient.

Housing Team Member Bob Furnad said the city needs to do a better job of selling its overall housing plan to the community and connecting all of the different work that’s being done; Carter agreed.

"We need to tie everything together; the URP, the GICH grant, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the Community Development Director," Carter said.

The housing team, comprised of a variety of local community leaders, meets once every couple of months or more as needed, and the next meeting is scheduled to occur before the GICH application is sent in.

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