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Atlanta Street residents prepare to relocate as redevelopment nears
Construction of 252 apartments could begin by 2017
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Peppers Market at the corner of Atlanta Street and E.E. Butler Parkway has been a regular stop for nearby residents for a generation. The store is next door to Green Hunter Homes, which are being demolished to make way for new apartments.

Atlanta Street’s days as an incubator for violent crime and drug use in Gainesville are numbered.

At least that’s what city officials hope will come of plans to demolish the Green Hunter Homes, a 131-unit public housing complex built in the 1950s that has given the street its reputation.

Beth Brown, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, said residents are ready to relocate and officials are working to make the process as smooth as possible.

Quamon, 21, said that his family has been living here on and off for 10 years.

He’s noticed an increasing law enforcement presence in the last year, but said the days can get long and boring in the projects.

So the prospect of moving on is a welcome relief to his family, Quamon said.

But it’s not all litter and police patrols along Atlanta Street.

Kids ride their bicycles freely after school, an all-girls dance team practices at the neighborhood community center and afternoon cookouts are common.

Businesses on the corner, including a convenience store and salon, do well.

And many families have ties that stretch back decades.

So while some tenants are happy to receive vouchers that will allow them to get subsidized housing elsewhere, others have expressed confusion and concern about relocating.

Rosetta King, for example, has lived on Atlanta Street for about 40 years.

In January, King told The Times that she fears the generational roots and bonds that families have developed here will be lost in the move.

Moreover, like others, she wonders if her next home will be located near retail, health and public services.

“It’ll be hard to move,” she said. “I feel left out.”

THE TRANSITION

The Gainesville Housing Authority has partnered with Walton Communities LLC, which has developed similar housing projects in other Georgia cities, to build the new market-rate and affordable units that will replace the Green Hunter Homes.

Construction of 252 apartments over three phases, which would increase capacity, could begin by 2017 with move-in dates in 2018.

Brown said this partnership would bring $10 million in cash to the redevelopment through a tax credit program.
Whether the redevelopment proves a success begins with how well the transition is handled for current residents.

But it’s clear that the conditions of these homes have deteriorated to the point that it is simply cheaper to demolish them and rebuild rather than renovate.

And the redevelopment comes at a time when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking to move out of the public housing business.

Brown said that if done right, the new complex will be a model for other affordable complexes and low-income housing redevelopments catering to students, professionals, families and seniors.

The state Department of Community Affairs will be meeting with residents along Atlanta Street next week to educate and provide assistance in the relocation process, but the counseling has already started.

Wendy Glasbrenner, managing attorney for the Gainesville regional office of the Georgia Legal Services Program, said her team is working with tenants to ensure they can find affordable housing in the city, particularly with easy access to public transit and other vital services for low-income families.

And a new staff attorney will focus on this project and similar examples in the GLSP’s 27-county area, Glasbrenner said. Some residents have already relocated to other public housing units in the city, such as along Wills Street where renovations were recently completed.

Brown said she and her staff have met with Georgia Power to coordinate transferring electrical connections through a single point of contact and have the Housing Authority billed directly for any setup fees.

The Housing Authority has also contracted with a moving company to assist tenants free of charge, or else residents can seek cash relocation assistance.

Brown said she has also reached out to local property owners and landlords to inform them of the timeline for relocating residents and gauge where certain tenants might be able to move.

The relocation of all residents should be complete by the end of the year.

Assistance with application fees is also available.

Finally, the DCA keeps a list of affordable housing complexes in the state and fair-market rates for communities based on the principle that tenants should not pay more than 30 percent of their income to put a roof over their head.

About 105 families still live at the Green Hunter Homes, and Brown said she expects about 70 of those to accept housing vouchers.

But the lack of affordable housing in Gainesville and Hall County, as identified by business owners, government officials and nonprofit leaders in stories on the issue published by The Times in January, means that a lot of variables — income, family size, proximity to work — will come into play for these tenants as they seek a new place to call home.

Brown said she hopes more property owners and landlords will consider joining the Section 8 subsidy program to help increase the supply of affordable units locally.

It is relatively easy to apply, she added, and can be a good business move for property owners because of guaranteed rental payments from the government.

“We know there isn’t a whole lot of availability in the area,” Brown said.

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