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‘A community that cares’: Residents, local leaders celebrate opening of Midtown Villages
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Students gather Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, inside the new community center known as MAC (Melrose Arts and Activities Center) for an after school program held at Midtown Villages at Melrose. - photo by Scott Rogers

Local leaders and residents gathered beneath a pavilion in front of the new Midtown Villages in reverent recognition of a three year journey on Thursday. 

Executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority Beth Brown said the initiative to renovate Midtown Villages spurred from strategic planning sessions that sought to improve conditions and enhance the quality of life for its residents.

Richelle Patton, president of Atlanta-based consulting firm Collaborative Housing Solutions, devised a plan and the project shifted into full gear from there.

When renovations began in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic posed an immediate challenge to organizers of the project, according to Patton. She said the work in general required a diligent balance to gain ground on the project without interference in the lives of its residents, who underwent short-term displacement and received temporary housing in rotation while the improvements to the complex were made. 

“We were active all through the worst parts of COVID,” Patton said. “We did sort of a checkerboard of moving residents from one unit, temporarily, back into their renovated units. It was a big sort of puzzle between six sites, and then it was COVID. People (were) sick. All the kids are at home, so that was one of the greatest challenges and opportunities.”

Around $45 million was spent by both public and private entities – each working together in partnership for the purpose of greater availability of affordable housing – a current crisis spreading across the northeast Georgia region as available rental units become more scarce and housing affordability only becomes more unattainable for low- and middle-income people. 

Life-changing renovations delivered to residents of Midtown Villages, a public housing development built in 1951, include a community center and additional room for afterschool  programs, laundry rooms, computer labs, office space for employees, newly renovated kitchens and bathrooms, doors, windows, microwaves and the new installation of heat and AC units residents can now use in hot summer months – a luxury they were without prior to the recent renovations. 

Both Brown and Patton expect other changes, beyond the material upgrades at Midtown Villages, to produce a positive impact for the people who live there, naming the team of Residents’ Service Coordinators who work to improve their livelihoods.

“They help coordinate 35 different local public and private agencies and organizations that provide services – both on- and off-site – to our residents to help them in terms of their self-sufficiency … we (also) have a focus on art to make it more accessible to underserved populations,” Patton said, gesturing various brightly colored renderings displayed on the walls throughout the community center.

Both Mayor Sam Couvillon and Chair of the Gainesville Housing Authority Darryl Smallwood expressed appreciation to fellow community leaders and commended those involved in the project before those in attendance.

“We have a community that cares,” Couvillon said. “And those are the people that make the difference … it’s the community, it’s the leaders, the board members who really make the difference in our community.”

Couvillon lauded Brown for her efforts in bringing the renovation project to life.

Brown said the project in its entirety serves as a profound enhancement to the quality of life for the residents at Midtown Villages.

“Safe and stable quality housing, I believe, is a cornerstone for the community – not just every separate individual,” she said. “The community is only going to thrive if the residents have quality housing to live in. It impacts them in their health, education ability, opportunities to come and be able to get the supportive services they need – it’s vital.”

Gathered alongside others was resident Renee Soriano, who said he’s glad to be a part of the community there at Midtown Villages. 

“It’s very good because everything is a community and everybody gets along,” Soriano said. 

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A group of kids make their way through Midtown Villages at Melrose Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, on Davis Street in Gainesville during the official grand opening of the apartments. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Katrina Cochran, from the office of Sen. Raphael Warnock, makes remarks Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, during the official grand opening of Midtown Villages at Melrose apartments on Davis Street in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Students are dropped off by a school bus at Midtown Villages at Melrose Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, on Davis Street in Gainesville where the apartment community holds their official grand opening. - photo by Scott Rogers
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Visitors to the Midtown Villages at Melrose grand opening Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, prepare tacos served up at the celebration program. - photo by Scott Rogers
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A new porch at the Midtown Villages at Melrose community center Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, along Davis Street in Gainesville. Midtown Villages at Melrose held their official grand opening on Thursday. - photo by Scott Rogers