Statesboro is one of five Georgia communities newly accepted into the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, or GICH, in which a team of local people will develop and pursue a program to improve housing.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar and District 2 City Councilman Sam Jones each traveled Oct. 16 to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ fall conference in LaGrange, where Statesboro’s acceptance into the three-year program was announced. Justin Williams, a city planner in Statesboro’s Department of Planning and Development, was already there. During the conference, Statesboro was also awarded a $750,000 share in a Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, from an application city officials submitted last spring.
That CDBG award and the community housing initiative were not connected, and the GICH program does not directly provide any funding. However, GICH participation will give Statesboro added points in scoring systems used to rank applications for certain grants and low-interest loans.
"It puts the city in position to receive millions of dollars of funding that was not there before,” McCollar said last week. “So that's what's really exciting about this, and this is us working to improve the quality of life for all of the citizens in Statesboro without pushing this tax burden down on the citizens."
Other communities newly announced as “freshmen” GICH participants are Adel, Hartwell, Ocilla and Rossville-LaFayette. Operated by the Department of Community Affairs and the University of Georgia, the initiative admits only five cities each year. They remain in the program three years, with local housing team members participating in two statewide, multi-day training and planning retreats annually.
The city will pay expenses for team members’ participation in the retreats. During a visit to Statesboro last spring, GICH state program director Jermaine Durham said that typical annual expenses are $3,000 to $5,000 for each community’s team.
Statesboro City Council in June approved making the city the lead agency in the GICH application by a 3-2 vote. Statesboro became one of 14 applicants, and then was one of seven finalist communities selected for visits by the GICH evaluators. The state’s team visited Statesboro for a brief tour with the local team Sept. 17.
As one of the five selected communities, Statesboro will also be assigned a specialist from the state program, McCollar said.
"Over the course of the next three years, we're going to be assigned a facilitator, and what this facilitator is going to do is listen to the vision of the GICH team and the city of Statesboro as to what we're wanting to do in regards to neighborhood revitalization and housing affordability, and through this facilitation and training process over the next three years a plan is going to be put into place,” McCollar said.
In initial work on the plan for Statesboro’s application, the local GICH team identified 179 homes in five neighborhoods as “dilapidated, distressed or deteriorated.”
The team includes representatives of the local banking, real estate and construction sectors, the schools and nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, the Housing Authority and the United Way, as well as city staffers and a county commissioner.
Kathy Jenkins, Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County executive director, said the nonprofit housing ministry is interested in the GICH because Habitat wants to do whatever it can “in terms of advocacy to encourage better housing options for everyone,” and not just the few who become Habitat homeowners.
"Habitat's vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live, and you know, we're building four houses a year, which is lovely, and for those four families it's wonderful,” Jenkins said in an interview. “But that's just a drop in the bucket in Bulloch County.”
GICH and the resulting community housing plan, she said, could also help the local Habitat organization qualify for grants, and funding could be used to remove uninhabited, blighted buildings.
"All these blighted properties and things, they drag our property values down just as much as they do anybody else's, and we see the potential to turn those blighted properties into low-income housing,” she said.
She is not a GICH team member, but Marcus Toole, Habitat Bulloch’s community outreach coordinator, is.
GICH status “adds some points on various competitive funding applications that DCA administers,” Owen Dundee, Statesboro’s other city planner, said Friday. He mentioned the Housing Tax Credit and grants from the Community Home Investment Program, or CHIP, as instances where this would be true. He and Williams said they are awaiting information from the GICH program for details and to learn whether CDBG applications are affected.
Community Development Block Grants are federal grants administered through the states.
Statesboro City Council in January authorized applying for the $750,000 CDBG award just received. It will augment $250,000 from the city’s stormwater utility fee and another $250,000 from water and sewer revenue to fund $1.25 million worth of storm drain and sanity sewer upgrades and related repairs on Rountree, Carver, Floyd, Elm and James Streets, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Bobby Donaldson Avenue.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.