New housing council will work to improve city’s housing quality

Jessica Gregory:::

On Sept. 25, the city was presented with a consolidated housing and community development strategic plan, “a more in-depth view of the housing situation that we are facing within the city,” said Taurus Freeman, city director of planning and development.

Though the plan was approved, commissioner Doug Hollberg expressed some hesitation in adopting the plan “without coming up with some real solutions.”

“We keep talking about housing studies and the government solving problems – until we come together as a community, state and country and figure out a way to put value back into property there’s no sense in it,” Hollberg said.

The plan identifies broad and sweeping goals such as “encourage the development of housing options for all income ranges and consistent with the economic goals of the city,” and “help low-income families avoid becoming homeless.”  (For more information on housing plan specifics, turn to page two).

Hollberg expressed frustration at talking about such problems year after year:  “We need to sit down as a board and have a workshop for implementation.”

Griffin Housing Authority CEO Bob Dull told The Grip that the number one mission of the housing authority was to identity blight and substandard “and get rid of it. I think we’re just starting to do that with the city.”

Dull said the first step to solving housing problems was identifying them with tangible evidence, which the plan has done.  “We’ve ended the speculation, which gives us something tangible to plan around,” Dull said.

The next step rests in the hands of the newly-formed housing council, which Dull said will be non-policy forming and will meet once per month to “constantly review this plan to make sure it doesn’t end up on a shelf somewhere and  hold different partners responsible for different strategies.”

The council’s first meeting was last month and includes various government entities and nonprofit organizations, including the city, county, housing authority, land bank authority and the Spalding Collaborative.

Hollberg and Dull both agreed that economic development is a large factor in restoring Griffin’s housing conditions.

Dull referred to job creation and housing problems as the old “what comes first” riddle, but then continued that he believes that the problems can be solved simultaneously and that the creation of the housing council, which has so many entities working together, can solve the problem.

“When employers select communities in which to relocate, the one thing they look for is that the housing can support their employment base.  Simultaneously we have to look at our housing opportunity.  What comes first the chicken or the egg?  It’s possible to do it simultaneously.  That’s one of the benefits that came out of this housing plan, is that everyone is singing on the same page,” Dull said.

Aligning with its mission of identifying and ridding the city of substandard housing, Dull said the authority has recently acquired seven houses that will be demolished, in addition to those properties the city is demolishing.

Dull said housing analysis showed high levels of renters versus homeowners and substandard housing.  “I think that one of the biggest problems is the concentration of renters in three of the four quadrants of Griffin. The lack of home ownership can really be a drain on the community in those areas.”

To help alleviate some of that drain, the housing authority is in the process of becoming an entity that will provide renter education.  This will assist landlords by providing a pool of people that have gone through training similar to that of first time home owners.  “The program will train people to be good neighbors,” Dull said.

Dull mentioned another problem that may have to be overcome before any housing problems can be solved: “People have to change their opinion of the housing authority – we do not just manage the projects. We here to support the community.  Our mission is to seek and provide housing opportunities for everyone….We’ve got to come together to solve these challenges.” Ω

A map included in the housing analysis portion of the Consolidated Housing and Community Development Plan shows a disproportionately high number or renter-occupied houses in the northern and southwest quadrants of the city. The United States Census reported 10,524 houses in the city of Griffin.  Of these, 3,514 (39 percent) are owner-occupied and 5,427 (61 percent) are renter-occupied.  According to the housing plan, a 50/50 owner/renter balance is historically used as an indicator of neighborhood stability.  Griffin’s renter occupancy rate has grown slightly over the past decade; it was 57 percent in 2000.

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