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Renovations aim to preserve Gainesville’s subsidized housing amid growing inventory loss
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Shynethia Russell, a resident at Melrose Apartments, writes comments regarding the complex during a meeting regarding renovations on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Gainesville Housing Authority announced a major renovation project on 200 public housing units. - photo by Austin Steele

While redevelopment of public housing in Gainesville into mixed-income properties continues with new plans to transform the Tower Heights neighborhood, renovations are coming that will help preserve about 200 subsidized apartments indefinitely.

Amidst a shrinking number of low-income units available in the city, the Gainesville Housing Authority, in partnership with Decatur-based Collaborative Housing Solutions, plans to make $31 million in repairs and upgrades to its public housing stock.

A minimum of $65,000 will be budgeted for improvements to each of about 200 units spread across the Melrose Apartments, and scattered sites along Summit Street, Rainey Street, Collins Circle, Mill Street and Athens Street.

Additional costs will include developing a new community center, playground and other amenities at Melrose, for example, as well as environmental reviews, disability access, design and planning expenses.

The renovations will include installing HVAC units, updating flooring, bathrooms and kitchens, as well as aesthetic exterior upgrades.

The project will be financed across eight phases through a national housing trust fund loan, tax credits and bonds, for example, with work anticipated to begin this fall.

“It’s going to help us to make things a little bit nicer,” said Beth Brown, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority.

Brown said the project allows Gainesville to preserve subsidized housing amidst a loss of income-based units at some properties, both public and private, in recent years.

“This allows us to not lose any of our income-based units,” Brown said.

The public-private partnership, while loosening some restrictions denoted by a “public housing” label, will keep the units “deeply” subsidized, unlike the recent redevelopment of the Green Hunter Homes on Atlanta Street.

That development, built on the back of tens of millions of dollars in tax credits, opened some units to market rates, for example.

“We don’t have to get rid of any of these,” Brown said about the units to be renovated.

But the task of renovating some 200 units is a massive undertaking.

“We understand the challenges in front of us here,” Brown told residents during a community meeting about the project on Wednesday, May 8.

Those challenges include a “rolling rehab,” Brown said, like a game of musical chairs wherein about 25-30 units will be refurbished at a time, with residents of those units relocating to vacant apartments for approximately eight weeks.

“We had stopped leasing several months ago,” Brown told The Times.

All relocation costs will be covered for residents.

Residents at the community meeting were asked to answer survey questions to gauge how they felt about the project; what specific improvements they’d like to see; how maintenance and management can improve; and what supportive services should be expanded.

Rosa Regalado and her family have lived at Melrose, the first public housing ever constructed in Gainesville, for more than 30 years, though not always in the same unit.

Other than wishing she had an extra bathroom, Regalado said it had been a good home to her family, and the renovations “will benefit us.”

Richard Thompson spent a few teenage years living in public housing in Gainesville. Now, he’s looking out for his 89-year-old mother, Annie B. Thompson, who still lives in public housing on a site along Mill Street.

Thompson said the planned renovations to his mother’s place are needed.

At times, for instance, she has to stuff towels between cracks in the doorframe or windows to keep the cold air out in the winter. And the washing machine drain has a tendency to clog up, Thompson said.

But the project spawns at least one major concern.

“I think for her the biggest concern will be, if she moves, will she get the same apartment back?” Thompson said.

Brown said the Housing Authority could not guarantee this would happen for everyone, but “we will make every effort to return them to the exact unit or same building.”

But the opposite is true for Laquicia Jackson and Christopher Richardson, a young couple living on Summit Street who are expecting a newborn this summer.

Jackson said she’s ready for a change, and the renovations can bring just the relocation to another housing authority property that she desires.

“Somewhere comfortable for me,” she said. This place is “not right for these kids.”
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Residents at Melrose Apartments listen to speakers with the Gainesville Housing Authority during a meeting regarding future renovations on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Gainesville Housing Authority announced a major renovation project on 200 public housing units. - photo by Austin Steele
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Residents at Melrose Apartments listen to speakers with the Gainesville Housing Authority during a meeting regarding future renovations on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Gainesville Housing Authority announced a major renovation project on 200 public housing units. - photo by Austin Steele
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Clothing dries on a clothesline at Melrose Apartments on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Gainesville Housing Authority announced a major renovation project on 200 public housing units. - photo by Austin Steele
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