After three years, the Village of Porterdale completed the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing and Mayor Arline Chapman and City Manager Bob Thomson were part of the “graduating class” during GICH’s annual meeting in Gainesville in September.
Thomas said in 2013, the village submitted an application but was denied. “We applied in 2014 and we were accepted. It’s involved [many] people in our community, including the faith community, police department, the village’s code enforcement department and its Main Street program.”
Chapman said during the meeting, representatives from small cities around the state approached them and asked “how we made it happen in Porterdale. The smaller cities coming along look up to us, which is interesting because, of course, for years everyone looked down on us.
“I’m really proud of Porterdale,” she said.
Improving the quality of life
The GICH program is designed to help communities create and launch a plan to improve residents’ quality of life and economic vitality by providing technical assistance, training, facilitation, mentoring and networking and collaboration with other current and past participants. Participating communities form a board, and adopt an action plan.
According to the village’s presentation recapping its goals and objectives for housing and community revitalization, its goals included enforcing building codes, leading to over $1.2 million in renovations of owner-occupied homes; developing a homeowner incentive program; and complete a detailed housing study to document which homes are vacant and in need of restoration or repair.
“I believe because of our GICH experience, we adopted a stricter housing code then is normally enforced,” Thomson said. “In fact, we had to get approval from the state to adopt it. We’re also one of the few towns of our size that has a full-time code enforcer. As a result, we’re seeing fewer and fewer uninhabitable homes.”
Chapman agreed. “I think it would be impossible to find someone who is living in a house that isn’t up to code,” she said of the village’s work over the last three years. “The plumbing has to work, there has to be a stove and, between March and October, if there isn’t an air conditioner, there has to be screens in the windows.
“We have put in place building standards and a historic district. We went ahead and put an ordinance in place where we had control over quality of the construction regardless of whether a home is being built for higher income and lower income,” she said. “We probably increased home ownership 10 percent over rental property.
“We achieved and overachieved,” she said. “It’s an ongoing thing. We’d like to have even more home ownership. I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we’ll say now we’re done.”
“We’ve exceeded goals,” Thomson agrees. “We’ve met 80 percent in our comprehensive plan.
Though she has appreciated the residents’ renovation of their own houses, there needs to be safe and affordable housing for all residents.
“I kind of look at Porterdale as having two Porterdales,” she said. “We have the Porterdale where people are coming in and fixing up their property. It’s a wonderful thing ... There is another side of the scale – people who haven’t owned a home. We look at how we can help that situation.
“It’s a matter of the quality of life for everybody and not leaving out lower income people and the quality of life you want people to have,” she said.
Moving into the future
At the Gainesville meeting, Chapman said, graduates were told “just because you’ve finished this program, don’t let it fall off the cliff. So, we’re focusing now on what we learned in these three years as we move into the future. You want to take the knowledge you’ve assimilated and use it. It’s a very good program and I’d certainly encourage any community that has an opportunity to participate to participate.”
“The good thing about GICH is they kind of hold your feet to the fire,” Chapman said. “They hold these seminars and you leave with a plan – and you have to do something, because you have to bring back reports of what you’ve done.”
Currently, the mayor said, the village is looking at examples of senior housing, using 2017 SPLOST monies to complete the Turkey Creek leg of the walking trail system, hooking Porterdale up to Turner Lake Park, winding back to Yellow River Park, and building a vibrant art community.
At the September city council meeting a representative from Waffle House revealed that the village would be getting a Waffle House Restaurant at the Crowell Road and State Route 81 intersection, Chapman said.
One of the advantages of successfully completing the GICH program, Thomson said, is being able to take advantage of state programs, like lower interest on infrastructure loans and economic development. The $3.5 million sewer project the village has recently undertaken was funded, in part, by a $1.1 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a $500,000 Community Block Development Grant.
“It gives you a pipeline to developers that are, for example, interested in senior housing. They are interested in low interest loans and access to Community Block Development Grants.”
Some of the things Porterdale has adopted or launched since starting the GICH program in 2014 include:
• coordinating with Newton Trails to connect Porterdale trails to the county trail system;
• begun a capital improvement program for infrastructure such as water and sewer;
• expanded recreational facilities at Cedar Shoals Park, Veterans Memorial Park and the Yellow River Park;
• developed pocket parks;
• completed a kayak launch;
• was named one of seven 2015 PlanFirst Communities in the state;
• established a historic district, developed an oral history program and identified historic places for markers;
• and instituted a Main Street program.
Members of Porterdale’s GICH board included realtor Milt Thomas, Grace Baptist Church Pastor Phillip Bone, Chief of Police Jason Cripps, Main Street Director Josephine Kelly, Code Enforcement Officer Willie Milligan, Chapman and Thomson.
The Georgia Initiative for Community Housing offers communities a three-year program of collaboration and technical assistance. The objective of the Initiative is to help communities create and launch a locally based plan to meet their housing and neighborhood revitalization needs.
The program represents a collaboration of three partners: the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), and the University of Georgia (UGA) Housing and Demographics Research Center.