By Tia Lynn Lecorchick Managing Editor
Local leaders and members of the Madison Housing Board attended a Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) retreat in Macon last week to begin the long journey toward improving housing in Madison and Morgan County.
“It was a tri-governmental effort, with representatives from all three local governments attending,” said Director of Madison City Planning Monica Callahan. Carrie Peters-Reid, a Madison city council member, Donald Harris, a Morgan County commissioners, and Erica Veasley, a Morgan County School Board member, attended the retreat along with Callahan and 10 other members of the GICH team.
“It’s great to have a team that is excited about learning what housing opportunities and strategies are out there for our community,” said Callahan. I think a lot of people think community housing is all about new housing, picturing hammers and nails flying everywhere. But it’s not all about new housing, but looking critically at the 1600 units of housing we already have and determining whether or not they are in good condition and how we can make them better.”
Callahan believes the Macon retreat helped broaden the perspectives of the housing team.
“It was a real eye-opener. Our people were exposed to the plethora of housing information that is out there and realized that we are in a little bit better shape than people think. People that have never lived anywhere else, sometimes, become a little insular in their thought process,” said Callahan.
GICH is a three-year program comprised of 15 communities: five freshman, five sophomores, and five juniors. Madison is one of the freshman communities, eager to make quality housing a priority for the community. Madison’s group worked with a facilitator named Pat Merritt of Georgia EMC. “She found our group to be strong, opinionated and passionate,” said Callahan.
“It was a good first dialogue. “We learned, talked amongst ourselves and set up a six – month work plan for the goals we want to get accomplished before the next retreat this September.” According to Callahan, the GICH team will embark on an “information gathering” season for the next six months to learn about Madison’s current housing state and housing programs the city can utilize.
“To educate ourselves is the first priority,” said Callahan. “We don’t know enough yet. We want our housing board to develop its own independent opinion of what our particular housing needs and goals are.” Gleaning from other communities is a big part of Madison’s education strategy. “We are just learning about what others communities are doing to provide a stable and diverse housing stock for their citizens—to ensure a better quality of life for their residents,’ said Callahan.
Callahan is particularly looking forward to the Housing Study to be completed in June. “It will give the housing board baseline information on the housing landscape in Madison,” said Callahan. The study will lay out the inventory housing: how many houses are there, how many were sold, how many were foreclosed on, how many are occupied, how many are rental properties, and what condition housing is in.
“Instead of having decision-makers make determinations based on anecdotal information, this is actual real information.,” said Callahan. “It gives us a starting point from which we can determine the best way to move forward.” During the next six months, the Housing Committee will devise a series of work sessions to gather as much information as possible about the current state of housing in Madison and opportunities to improve housing.
“After that, then the housing board will reach out and start informing others. It’s premature to try to educate the public and city council on matters they haven’t educated themselves about yet,’ said Callahan. They city will announce future work sessions on housing and invite the public during the next six months.