How One City Became a Master Developer

Officials in Covington, Georgia, intervened in a half-finished housing development project that fell victim to the housing crisis in 2008


What Happened?

Officials in Covington, Georgia, intervened in a half-finished housing development project that fell victim to the housing crisis in 2008. The unconventional approach to combat blight may be an example for other municipalities housing similar failed projects.

Goal

The Walker’s Bend subdivision in Covington, Georgia, was initially approved in 2003 and set to offer 249 homes across 50 acres. By 2007, however, sales slowed with only 79 homes built and 50 sold – leaving the developer bankrupt, CityLab reported.

Rather than let the neighborhood work through rising crime rates amid a housing crisis, Covington proposed to spend $1 million in purchasing the empty lots and redevelop the land into:

  • Green space and parks
  • Business incubator
  • Senior center
  • Affordable housing

The city would own the land and implement a more walkable community development to control blight and rising crime rates, CityLab reported.

What Next?

The city then started to rehab existing townhomes, and buy up the lots using a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Stabilization grant. Covington also partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help revitalize the homes and sell them to middle class families at fair prices, not making a profit, CityLab reported.

Moreover, Covington sold some of the lots to a tax-credit developer which constructed 32 single-family homes for low-income tenants. The city then:

  • Collaborated with the local housing authority to build another low-income, three-story apartment building with classroom space and computer lab to support a workforce development agency
  • Created a 26-unit apartment building was constructed next-door to support people with disabilities who were once homeless

Covington hopes to strengthen the neighborhood with mixed-income housing and urban amenities to support long-term growth and sustainability, CityLab reported.

Make It Work

The deployment of mixed-income housing developments has raised criticism suggesting these projects do not provide enough resources to help a low-income population succeed. In response to such criticism, a study published in Cityscape proposed a variety of interventions that would help communities overcome common obstacles to achieving socioeconomic status improvements:
  • Housing: Deploying a lease-to-purchase program through a shared-equity housing model operated by a community land trust, or a nonprofit that uses public and private funds to offer affordable home ownership opportunities. This would ensure long-term affordability while enabling low-income renters to eventual own the units.
  • Social Services: Using energy-efficient appliances and building materials to lower utility bills. Initiating weatherization programs to reduce heating and cooling costs in the long-term.
  • Employment: Offering vocational training and provide employers with incentives to hire a certain number of low-income workers to improve long-term employment. Creating intensive jobs programs that include counseling, advocacy and subsidized employment opportunities.
  • Neighborhood Life: Distributing a neighborhood directory with resident contact information and descriptions, newsletters with profiles and professional achievements, or free internet access.

In addition, the research suggests communities looking to ensure cohesion and stability in mixed-income neighborhoods should invest in amenities, organizational infrastructure and shared neighborhood spaces such as gardens and parks. These projects provide opportunities for social interactions, employment and a sense of identity.

Away with Blight

EfficientGov has kept a close eye on communities struggling to fight blight with federal funding and dense urban developments .

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