The Covington Redevelopment Authority continues its efforts to remake Walker’s Bend and has reached an agreement to sell 28 lots to private developer Affordable Equity Partners to build 32 single-family homes.
The agreement is contingent upon AEP receiving tax credits from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. AEP needs the tax credits, because the homes would not generate profits but would instead be leased and eventually sold to low-income individuals.
On Monday night, the Covington City Council unanimously approved a motion to send resolution to DCA in support of AEP’s efforts. City Planning Director Randy Vinson said the tax credit awards will likely be announced by October.
Jim Markel, an Atlanta AEP representative, said his company would own the homes for at least 15 years and either rent them or do extended lease-purchases. He said the company would also maintain all the greenspace during that time. The homes would be around 1,500 sq. ft., and Markel said they would cost approximately $85 to $90 per square foot to build and would be of a higher quality than the existing homes.
He said the cottage-style homes will be designed to fit in with the overall Traditional Neighborhood Development style. The State of Massachusetts’ website had one of the more succinct definitions: A TND contains a center that includes a public space and commercial enterprise; an identifiable edge, ideally a five minute walk from the center; a mix of activities and variety of housing types; an interconnected network of streets usually in a grid pattern, high priority of public space, with prominently located civic buildings and open space that includes parks, plazas, squares.
The CRA’s plans in the neighborhood call for open public space and commercial properties at the entrance of the neighborhood. To date, the CRA has purchased around 45 lots in Walker’s Bend; most of them were bank-owned properties that had been foreclosed on.
In March, Vinson said the city was focusing on Walker’s Bend because most of the subdivision was in foreclosure, both houses and vacant properties. The city and CRA saw the neighborhood as being on the verge of becoming a slum and hoped to turn it around through concentrated investment, he said previously. Homes originally sold in that neighborhood for more than $100,000, but are now routinely selling for $50,000 or less,
Mayor Kim Carter and Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams have repeatedly stated the city needs more affordable housing. AEP is the same company that is building the senior 60-70 unit senior affordable housing complex at the intersection of Lee and Reynolds streets.
• In related news, the city is applying for a state grant that would allow it to offer $300,000 in down payment assistance to low-income individuals who wanted to purchase other homes in Walker’s Bend.
The city’s grant writer Randy Conner said other homebuilders will be given the opportunity to build affordable homes in Walker’s Bend other than AEP. These homes will actually be sold as opposed to being rented.
The Community Home Investment Program is designed to allow communities to offer affordable housing to their citizens and is administered by DCA. Conner estimated that between 15 and 20 homeowners could be helped with the $300,000. The maximum sales price enabled under the grant’s terms is $150,000 and the maximum assistance available is $14,999.
A family must not make more than 80 percent of the Area Median Income, which for a family of four in Covington is $57,350.
The council asked why other areas weren’t considered, but Conner said many other areas in need have housing that is too old; the CHIP grant requires houses to be built after 1978.
The council unanimously approved a motion allowing the city to apply for the CHIP grant.
• In other city news, the council approved an alcohol license for Low Country Fish Camp, a fish restaurant which will be opened at 2123 Usher St. NW, in the Sunbelco property at the corner of Usher Street NW and Emory Street, which has been vacant for years.
• Finally, due to the recent failure of two electric transformers, the city had to purchase a replacement transformer for $38,700. Covington had one transformer in stock and borrowed another one from the City of Monroe.
• Work at the airport continues to be delayed by engineering concerns and, although the fuel farm tank has been up and running for a while, the Avgas pump remains down, because the inside of the tank became too corroded while it sat vacant for several months. City Manager Steve Horton said Monday the city is waiting for a price estimate before it can order the tank cleaned. The Jet A fuel pump is running.