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Church Street Manor getting much-needed renovations, but current residents won't get to enjoy them
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Church Street Manor resident Jimmy Wilmont worries about where he will live Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, as all the apartment's residents are being permanently displaced as the building is being completely renovated. - photo by Scott Rogers

Senior residents at Church Street Manor, a government subsidized apartment complex, have until the end of the year to find a new place to live.

The property will undergo a “rebirth” at the start of next year, said Frank Norton, president and CEO of The Norton Agency real estate firm that manages the Jesse Jewell Parkway property. 

The project will cost approximately $4 million, he said, and while it will still be categorized as affordable housing, it will not be subsidized or accept vouchers. The rent for a unit in the new complex would cost approximately $800 to $1,400. 

This means the current residents, all of them elderly and many of them disabled, will have to move somewhere else. 

“Church Street Manor has been a really great affordable home for, I guess, generations,” Norton said. “But, unfortunately, it's grown old and tired.” The property “is in great need of some major renovations,” he said. “And unfortunately, this can't be done with the current residents in place.” 

By all accounts, the property is in bad shape. It was plagued by bed bugs in 2019 and three years before that, residents were evacuated multiple times after gas leaks. This year, the property owner decided not to renew its contract with HUD. 

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Residents of Gainesville's Church Street Manor apartments are being permanently displaced as the building is being completely renovated. - photo by Scott Rogers

Beth Brown, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, which currently manages the property, said they have hired a relocation specialist to help the 39 residents find alternative housing options, which involves gathering all the paperwork the Department of Community Affairs requires before issuing a voucher. 

Residents have the option of receiving a voucher, which would allow them to rent through any private landlord willing to oblige, or move to a subsidized complex in Union City, where the HUD contract for the Manor property has been transferred. One resident said she is headed to Union City, but most have opted for the voucher, Brown said. 

But there is a problem: There aren’t many places they can go, and the voucher expires in 120 days. 

“There's a housing shortage, and there's not a whole lot of landlords in the area that accept section 8 vouchers,” Brown said. “And so we're having to look maybe outside of where people would ideally want to live.”

When asked if he had anywhere to go, Donnie Forrester, a 69-year-old resident who has lived on the property for seven years, said, “God no. If there was, that's where we’d be, but there ain't nothing. There ain't no alternative.” 

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Church Street Manor resident Bonnie Yeary talks about her uncertain future Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, as all the apartment's residents are being permanently displaced as the building is being completely renovated. - photo by Scott Rogers

“I do have sensitivity to this whole issue,” Norton said. “That's why we've gone about it in a professional way. That's why we’ve gone about it in a thoughtful manner. That's why we had an organized plan with the housing authority.” 

The new property, the name of which has not yet been unveiled, will not accept vouchers. 

“Our firm manages 450 units and at the moment,” Norton said. “We don’t take vouchers for any of our projects. I believe in free enterprise and provide good quality housing throughout Hall County.” 

Developed in the early 1970s, Church Street Manor has always been privately owned but federally subsidized through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Residents usually pay 30% of the rent with Social Security and disability checks. One resident said he typically pays $200 a month, for example, and the rest is covered by the government. 

Brown said tenants were notified that the property owner decided not to renew its HUD contract this year. She said the GHA has been working with residents since February to find them another affordable place to stay. 

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Donnie Huel Forrester stands on the sidewalk outside his Church Street Manor apartment Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Forrester has been living at the apartment complex for seven years but will have to leave soon as all the complex's residents are being permanently displaced when the building is being completely renovated. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Residents were notified a long time ago,” she said. Residents were told, “‘Get your name on waiting lists. Start applying wherever you can because we know there's a shortage of housing.’” 

“We’ve been encouraging folks for a long time and there are some that did, and so their transition right now is much easier than those that have not,” Brown said. 

But some residents say the early notice hasn’t done much good. 

“I’ve gotten on the waiting list of half a dozen complexes,” Forrester said. “But every one of them has got at least six months to a year waiting lists.” He said he would urge Norton to “walk a mile in our shoes.” 

“I know he's a wealthy man,” said Charles Lawson, 62, who is confined to a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy and has lived at the complex for 19 years. “He's probably deserved the wealth, but I wish he would be more tenderhearted and give us more of a chance to get out of here.”

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Gainesville Church Street Manor residents Bonnie Yeary, Charles Lawson, center, and Donnie Huel Forrester talk about their uncertain future homes Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, because all the apartments' residents are about to be permanently displaced when the building is completely renovated. - photo by Scott Rogers