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City to get valuable housing assistance
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Covington leaders have made cleaning up urban blight one of the city’s top priorities, and the state recently pledged to help with that effort.

On Wednesday, the city learned it had earned placement in the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing program. Rather than providing money, the GICH program provides three years of free access to a variety of housing experts from the Department of Community Affairs, Georgia Municipal Association and University of Georgia.

The experts help city officials craft their overall housing plan, educate and train local housing team members, identify and help access housing grants and actually help to improve housing.

"We’re just thrilled to get this award. Three years of technical assistance from those three organizations is amazing," Mayor Kim Carter said. "We’ve talked many times about the fact that you can’t separate community development from economic development. This is just another tool in the toolbox to help solve our housing blight and will, hopefully, result in economic prosperity for all our residents."

The city applied for the grant last year, but fell short. This year the city passed its Urban Redevelopment Plan and formed a Covington Redevelopment Authority, two steps which put it over the top.

The URP identifies areas where residential and commercial properties need to be revitalized or demolished, where future properties could be located and where pedestrian-friendly infrastructure needs to be implemented. The authority helps carry out those goals.

In 2008, DCA gave out $36 million in Community Development Block Grants, which are open for annual competition among local governments. Covington didn’t receive any of that money. With the URP and, now, its GICH status, city leaders hope that will change.

The first step in the GICH process will be for Covington officials to go to an introductory retreat sometime in February, City Senior Planner Michelle Larsen said. Intensive one and two-day retreats with experts are a signature of the program. Experts also work with city officials regularly throughout the year.

Housing Team Member Frank Turner Jr. said previously that without the GICH grant the city has a bunch of ideas without guidance. He said the GICH assistance won’t make Covington a revolutionary, but will simply put the city on pace with its peers.

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

Carter said she hopes the city will see more projects like the $9 million senior affordable housing center being developed in the Harristown neighborhood.