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Community brings up sidewalks, beautification, affordable housing at public meeting for grant use
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Melissa Mailloux, principal at Mosaic Community Planning, speaks to community members at the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Center during a community workshop to get feedback on housing in the area on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele
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Emory Turner provides feedback during a community workshop at the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Center on housing in the area on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Residents voiced their opinions during the first of three public meetings the city of Gainesville is hosting in order to get an idea of the best ways it can use a yearly grant it receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A five-year consolidated plan must be updated every five years in order to receive the Community Development Block Grant. The city also must submit an action plan each year, outlining the priorities for the coming year in order to continue receiving the funds.

“I haven’t been surprised by anything that’s been said so far,” said Jessica Tullar, special projects manager with the city. “It’s been, I think, in line with what we’ve known for a while.”

The city usually gets an average of $400,000, but received $470,338 — the most it’s ever received — last year for infrastructure and housing improvements. The city will hold two more meetings, one at 6 p.m. Jan. 28 at Gainesville Exploration Academy and one at 6 p.m. Jan. 31 at Gainesville High School, to help decide how to spend that money.

“We think we know some of the issues, but we don’t necessarily know it all,” Tullar said. “So we need to hear from the community.”

Residents covered concerns they had on everything from sidewalks to street beautification to homelessness and affordable housing.

Barbara Brooks was at the meeting and said she didn’t understand why children who live within walking distance of their school have to be forced to take the school bus or have their parents take them to school. She wants part of the money from the grant to go toward further improving sidewalks in the city so that doesn’t have to happen anymore.

“Most of the neighborhoods I’ve visited, where I live, in the southeast quadrant of Gainesville, we don’t have sidewalks,” Brooks said. “If we have a sidewalk, we only have it on one side of the street.”

Emory Turner echoed the same thoughts, saying he can see the need for sidewalks throughout the city by simply looking at the worn out paths in the grass along the roads where people have been walking for years.

“You see people walking, and you can see the path,” Turner said. “If there was not a need, there wouldn’t be a path. That kind of tells you somebody’s got to look at it.”

That conversation led into Brooks voicing her concerns about Athens Street, along with other streets in the area, that need to be cleaned up. She said even if there are sidewalks, it’s not enjoyable to use them when there are eye-sores along the way.

“There is a need to have those businesses cleaned up,” Brooks said of some places along Athens Street. “What is in the city limits, I think we have an obligation to make sure that it looks just as nice as any other part of town.”

Affordable housing came up at the meeting, too. Residents at the meeting said there isn’t much out there that people can afford. Rent is too high and, oftentimes, purchasing a home and taking on a mortgage is cheaper than rent. They said that shouldn’t be the case, but employers in the area aren’t able to offer wages that make it possible to afford housing.

Tullar said that’s something she believes the grant will most likely go toward in the coming years.

“I see that maybe we’re going to be able to do more assistance with down payment assistance through the Community Development Block Grant or some other kind of up front assistance helping people get into a house,” Tullar said.

But, Tullar said they need to hear from the community, which is why they are having the meetings at different times and locations throughout Gainesville.

And for those that can’t make it to a meeting, the city has published an online survey for community input.