Statesboro is applying to become a Georgia Initiative for Community Housing city, after a recent 3-2 vote by City Council to make the city government lead agency in the application.
Jermaine Durham, Ph.D, director of the GICH, which is operated by the University of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, spoke to interested citizens, Mayor Jonathan McCollar and three City Council members during a 3:30 p.m. May 21 council work session.
The initiative is a three-year program in which a team from each selected community participates in two multi-day training and information retreats each year and develops a community housing plan. The plan, in turn, can be used to pursue grants, financing and tax credits for projects to improve housing.
Only five cities a year are chosen as new GICH participants, so it is a competitive process, Durham explained.
A 5:30 p.m. City Council meeting, attended by all five council members, followed the work session. But the proposal for the city to be the lead agency in the GICH application did not appear on the agenda until the June 4 morning meeting.
“It’s a program that addresses affordable housing; a better, updated term is workforce housing,” McCollar said then. “It also works to revitalize areas of the community that may need that attention, as well as to address our issue with dilapidated housing.”
Since 2005, GICH participating communities have received more than $361 million for housing improvements, he said. The totals on GICH’s website include funding from grant programs that communities can be eligible for without a GICH plan.
The city of Valdosta, McCollar said, has been one of GICH’s “stellar communities,” rehabilitating more than 300 properties. Nearer by, Pembroke, Metter and Millen are past GICH participants. Over the years, 71 communities have participated.
“As you know, within the city of Statesboro we have several areas that could really be addressed and benefited by us joining this program,” McCollar said.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum asked what it meant for the city to be lead agency.
“Is there a financial requirement? Are there matching requirements? There’s no documentation in the agenda whatsoever,” he said.
Boyum noted that he was not able to attend the May 21 work session but said he thought more information should have accompanied the June 4 agenda. The agenda listed the GICH lead agency action, but board members’ packets included no budget impact memo or other documents.
“At this point right now we’re only applying to get in. That’s it,” McCollar told the council. “The only time that there will be any type of financial obligation is once we are into the program – it’s a competitive process; there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to get in – but the financial part to this would be us agreeing to pay for the individuals that are part of the GICH team to travel to two trainings per year.”
Durham had stated the typical annual costs as $3,000 to $5,000, McCollar and District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn reported.
Boyum asked if the council could table the action until members received more documents.
“Time is of the essence. If we table it, we’re going to miss the application deadline,” McCollar said. “The application deadline is next month.”
He noted that council members had been emailed information about GICH. Boyum acknowledged receiving it, but said an email was not the same as a public agenda.
District 2 Councilman Sam Lee Jones made a motion to approve and District 4 Councilman John Riggs seconded, but Boyum and District 5 Councilman Derek Duke voted “no.”
“I agree with Councilman Boyum. There’s no documentation, Mr. Mayor,” said Duke, who had also been the other council member not present at the May 21 work session.
After noting that he had attended it, Jones said he understood the GICH team would be “all volunteers, a combination of council members, community members, trying to help those that are homeowners, citizens who have houses in need, including some dilapidated homes, to bring their homes up to par.”
He added that he also understood Boyum’s point and that it is important to have enough info to make decisions.
“I vote ‘yes’ because it’s a good thing for the citizens of Statesboro,” Jones said.
Asked later, McCollar said he would not bring the item back to seek a unanimous vote because of the time limitations. The GICH website lists deadlines of June 28 for a letter of intent and July 26 for the application.
McCollar also noted that, although the city will handle the paperwork as lead agency, GICH officials expect a community effort involving volunteers and other organizations.
Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County had staff members and supporters at the May 21 workshop.
“I’m going to be on the team, and this is going to be a very high priority for us,” local Habitat for Humanity Community Relations Coordinator Marcus Toole said this week.
Habitat’s international senior director of advocacy programs is slated to attend a GICH kickoff meeting in the city of Statesboro’s Joe Brannen Hall this Wednesday at 6 p.m., Toole said.