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Gainesville makes Atlanta Street a grant priority instead of Myrtle Terraces
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Atlanta Street What they’re trying to build: New public, affordable and market-rate units, which will be the final phase of the complex’s redevelopment plan. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The apartment units along Atlanta Street have been gutted and the entire public housing complex is now fenced off.

Soon, the whole neighborhood will be demolished and new public, affordable and market-rate units will rise in its place.

And with the city’s backing, the Gainesville Housing Authority is pursuing an additional $10 million in low-income housing tax credits through the state Department of Community Affairs to support construction of the third and final phase of the redevelopment.

That has left the owner of the Myrtle Terraces senior living homes unhappy, though now largely resigned, about the fact that city officials are throwing their support behind the Atlanta Street project.

“The revitalization of the midtown area has been a primary focus for the city,” Gainesville Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard said. “The redevelopment of the Atlanta Street homes is a cornerstone of our revitalization efforts.”

The Gainesville Housing Authority, in partnership with private developer Walton Communities, has applied for low-income housing tax credits to fund each phase of the project.

Beth Brown, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the application for additional credits to fund the third phase is due next spring.

“The draft of DCA’s Qualified Allocation Plan is out,” she added. “We are reviewing and analyzing right now.”

It’s a highly competitive application process, and it would be a challenge for two projects in the same city to receive such funding when communities across the state are vying for the same pot of money.

The application for Atlanta Street will likely benefit from the inclusion of a community revitalization plan, which adds “points,” though it is not required.

“The city has chosen to support the Atlanta Street project to demonstrate our commitment and to strengthen the Gainesville Housing Authority’s application,” Sheppard said. “This is not unusual, as the city has supported Atlanta Street in lieu of other project applications in the past.”

Though Myrtle Terraces can still submit an application, it is handicapped without the city’s support and the addition of a community revitalization plan.

“We believe that the city should strive to get two awards for DCA housing tax credits — both Atlanta Street and Myrtle Terraces (phase 2),” said Philip Searles, president of Beverly J. Searles Foundation Inc., a nonprofit that developed and owns Myrtle Terraces and the adjoining Pacolet Milliken Park. “With the demonstrated need of scores of qualified seniors on the Myrtle Terraces waiting list, there is a critical need.”

Sheppard said Gainesville has not completed a community revitalization plan for the New Holland area where Myrtle Terraces is located because much of the area is outside the city limits.

“The city may focus on this area in the future, in cooperation with Hall County, but we currently feel that the completion of the Atlanta Street redevelopment is the priority for the city,” she added.

Located at 1326 Myrtle St., Myrtle Terraces has 84 units of age-restricted housing. It is located in a “qualified census tract,” where poverty rates are 20 percent or higher.

Searles said Myrtle Terraces needs the tax credits to expand and meet a growing waiting list of prospective tenants.

The demand for additional affordable housing is evident in Gainesville, particularly among seniors living on fixed incomes.

More than half of all renters in the city, and about 30 percent of homeowners, are considered cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to census figures.

And the number of residents 65 and older in Hall County has doubled since 2000, rising from 13,067 to an estimated 27,256.

Today, that age group makes up an estimated 14 percent of the county’s population.

The benefits also extend to the Brenau University College of Health Sciences, Searles said, which could expand the training and community service options

“Every day we get requests for housing at Phase 2,” Searles said. “And with our Brenau programs, we offer so much more to our residents.”

Moreover, Searles said he has offered to generate about $350,000 in cash fees for the Gainesville Housing Authority as part of a Phase 2 expansion of Myrtle Terraces.

“There are several examples around the states where a city (other than Atlanta) received two DCA awards in one year,” Searles said.

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