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'It actually feels like home' - Residents ecstatic over Midtown Villages renovations
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Shynethia Russell and her family have lived at Midtown Villages for over a year and has witnessed the improvements made for tenants of the public housing complex. The Gainesville Housing Authority and Collaborative Housing Solutions have recently completed redevelopment of the apartment complex. - photo by Scott Rogers

Before the renovations began on Midtown Villages, residents were invited to write down suggestions, Shynethia Russell said.

“We got just about everything that we wanted,” said the 29-year-old mother of four.

The Gainesville Housing Authority has nearly finished the renovations for the government housing project for low-income tenants. The six properties with 54 buildings and more than 200 units had not been substantially renovated since the early 1950s.

Working in partnership with Collaborative Housing Solutions and SK Collaborative, each of the 200 units received a full makeover, including new flooring, windows, appliances, cabinets, roofs, and central air conditioning.

Residents have been excited to return to their apartments.

“Everybody was running around,” said Lakeisha Wright, 32, an 11-year resident with four children. “Even just peeking in the windows (before move-in), we could not wait to get back in the house.”

“I was so happy,” she said. “It actually feels like home.”

One of the most significant renovations is the addition of new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, which cost $2.7 million or $13,500 per unit. The indoors during a hot summer day had felt “like 110 degrees,” said property manager Patrick Scarlett.

The new systems are making another difference as well.

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Gainesville Housing Authority and Collaborative Housing Solutions have completed the Midtown Villages redevelopment. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Even with the central heating and air systems, (residents) have seen a reduction in utility costs,” wrote Beth Brown, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, in a press release.

More than half the total units are located at the Melrose location, which, unlike the other five properties, built a community center — the Melrose Art and Activity Center — that houses a computer room, a space for kids and a full-sized kitchen capable of hosting events. The center also has a laundry room with new washers and dryers, and the community dumpster has been replaced by a trash compactor. Construction of a new playground will begin next week.

Brown said the other locations did not have room for a community center, but the center can be used by residents from any of the six properties.

Renovations began in February 2019 and cost $25 million, with about $20 million coming from 4% low income housing tax credits provided by the federal government, Brown said. Another $3 million or so came from the National Housing Trust Fund program, and the Gainesville Housing Authority contributed about $850,000. A bank loan also added to the funding, Brown said, though she did not recall the exact amount.

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Midtown Villages property manager Patrick Scarlet tours the apartment complex Friday, July 16, 2021, as the Gainesville Housing Authority and Collaborative Housing Solutions have completed the Midtown Villages redevelopment. - photo by Scott Rogers

The buildings also underwent a dramatic sustainability upgrade.

As a condition for receiving the tax credits, the buildings had to “comply with certain green standards,” Brown said, which were overseen by SK Collaborative, a green building consulting firm based in Decatur.

“This is one of the most complicated developments I've ever done in my life,” Richelle Patton, founder of Collaborative Housing Solutions, said in a press release. “I can't say enough of the stick-with-it-ness, the determination, the commitment of everyone on the development and property management teams.”

“There were some difficult days, but as a team, we all worked together,” she said.

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A newly installed sculpture is placed at the entrance of Midtown Villages. The Gainesville Housing Authority and Collaborative Housing Solutions have completed redevelopment of the public housing complex. - photo by Scott Rogers
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