Historic neighborhood revitalization

Whit Carpenter Community, Featured


Around 20 houses in the Canaan Historic Neighborhood have been renovated through the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH), and six more are set to be completed by October.

The Housing Opportunity Commission (HOC), a GICH community in Madison, hosted a showcase of four renovated homes in the area last Sunday afternoon.

“This is the first phase of four phases to address needy houses,” said Monica Callahan, the Planning and Community Development Director for the City of Madison.

Of the 300 homes in the Canaan area, roughly 80 show signs of deterioration, and 46 percent of residents live below the poverty line, according to Callahan.

“I’m grateful for everything. It was a smooth process, and it took a lot of trust as well because you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into,” said Juanita Nash, a mother to three daughters whose house was renovated.

Nash, 45, works for Social Circle City Schools. HOC replaced her roof, air conditioning system, windows, bathtub, toilet, floors and countertops for the kitchen and bathroom in her home.

“It keeps my house up so I can pass it on to my girls or my grandkids,” Nash said.

GICH helps homes meet standards for safety, decency and sanitation. The program is funded through a competitive grant program offered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Needy communities across the state must compete against one another for the Community Home Investment Program (CHIP) and Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG).

“When we apply for the grant, they want to know what kind of money is your community willing to put in,” Callahan said.

First United Methodist Church contributed $15,000 to be distributed across three years, and The Gathering donated $5,000.

SAFEbuilt, a community development company, gave $1,500 for marketing, and the City of Madison waived $10,000 in permit fees.

“Those contributions really made our grant more competitive,” Callahan said.

HOC was awarded $806,000 from the grant programs. After the program was funded, families could apply to have their homes renovated.

Applicants must own the home and be below an income threshold that is set by the federal government. They must also pay around 3 percent of the total cost. Roughly $25-35,000 was spent to repair each home.

The applications are vetted by Sherry Kurtz, president of Grant Specialists of Georgia Inc, to verify that all the qualifications have been met. Grant Specialists discounted its services by around $2,000 in support of the initiative.

Grant Specialists also vetted the contractors. The contractors bid on the construction, and the lowest bidders get the project. WCR Construction and Kelly Holmes Construction worked on the homes in this area, according to Callahan.

However, the program is not without challenges. One issue was establishing trust between the local government and the residents.

“There was a fear of being taken advantage of and real skepticism that the city was trying to help,” Callahan said. “But once the first home got renovated, talk got around.”

HOC invited Cathy Williams to speak at the showcase. Williams is the president and CEO of NeighborWorks Columbus, a non-profit that promotes affordable housing to low income citizens in Georgia and Alabama.

“It’s about empowering the family,” said Williams. Families are faced with choices between paying for groceries, prescriptions or fixing the roof, and home maintenance is not the priority, she explained.“As we start to see our society’s wealth growing, we see housing costs going up. We see wages stagnant, and we see those that are on fixed income really not keeping up with the costs of maintenance of a home. Or the cost of just being in a home,” Williams said.

However, programs like HOC are allowing families to become financially stable.

“You have a formula here that if I could just package it and take it to every community anywhere in the country, I know that we would start making a dent in the need for affordable housing,” Williams said.

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