Renovations to the 100-unit Linwood Apartments in Gainesville were so desperately needed that it’s hard to find complaints from residents now that new windows, appliances, cabinets, countertops, lighting, drywall, HVAC units, water heaters and plumbing fixes are being made.
“I like it,” said Billie Halmon, a longtime tenant who has seen her apartment flood a half dozen times or more, from a sewage pipe leak to a burst hot-water heater to a broken sink.
Though Halmon will be one of the last tenants to have her unit renovated in the coming months, she has watched the upgrades heading her way, from one building at the complex to the next, including new siding and heavier, more secure front doors.
In fact, Halmon is excited about the prospect of relocating to a ground-floor unit when her current place is rehabbed, hoping she’ll get to stay in the new apartment going forward.
“There’s probably mold all over the place,” she said of her current unit.
Reports of roach infestations, plumbing failures, damaged appliances and other problems at Linwood have been frequent and documented by The Times over the last several years.
But under new ownership, the ongoing renovations will upgrade low-income housing at a time when quality, affordable living in Gainesville has grown scarce through redevelopment of public housing into mixed-income properties.
The affordable housing market has also been challenged by the loss of properties similar to Linwood, leaving hundreds of lower-income families in Gainesville facing rent increases as apartment complexes (such as the former Lenox Park) in the city exited, or began the process of exiting, a state tax credit program that kept housing costs below market rates.
The complexes also began refusing housing vouchers, subsidies or other assistance on rents.
In the last five years, Vitus, a national affordable housing developer, has acquired about 1,000 units across Georgia, with Linwood and a site in Savannah being the most recent additions to its portfolio of housing stock.
“It really lines up with our mission,” said Michael Volz, director of development management for Vitus. “That’s where you see tenants rent-burdened.”
According to census figures, about half of all renters in Gainesville meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development qualification of “rent-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
When Vitus acquired Linwood last year, it renewed a 20-year contract on the property with the state to accept Section 8 housing vouchers “helping to preserve and renew a property that has served as a source of affordable housing in the community for 45 years,” according to a press release.
Building new affordable housing is needed, but if a community like Gainesville is “losing (affordable housing) at the same time, it’s not making a lot of progress,” Volz said.
Linwood is unique in that it will remain a project-based housing complex, meaning the rental subsidy (for those making 60 percent or less of the area median income) is tied to the unit rather than the tenant, and is non-transferrable.
There are just four other such properties in Gainesville-Hall County operating similarly: Church Street Manor, Lighthouse Manor, Lake Forest Apartments and Ridgecrest Apartments.
About $45,000 has been earmarked for the renovations at Linwood, which are financed through bonds and tax credits.
The rehab is scheduled for completion by the end of the year, and also includes exterior remedies, such as concrete replacement in the parking lot, wooden stairway replacement, an additional dumpster enclosure, new signage, a community and laundry room, as well as a new gazebo and playground.
Volz said there are also plans to offer monthly classes on nutrition, gardening, fitness and other topics.
The property will also become compliant with laws requiring disability access to the complex, with 5 percent of units being equipped and available for disabled people.
Vitus is also employing new property management.
“Our team is proud to protect and extend the life of the Linwood Apartments,” Volz said. “This property plays an important role in Gainesville’s affordable housing market, and we look forward to renewing it and bringing in new features to improve the community for residents and neighbors alike.”
Occupancy has been down a little during construction, and prospective tenants may have to wait for an open unit until all renovations are completed, Volz said.
Volz said tenants are moved into another unit on the property while their building is being rehabbed, with movers available to assist and management paying for any associated costs.
“Basically, I think it’s OK,” said John Johnson, who has lived at Linwood for the last five years.
But, he added, he wants to make sure the renovations get done right.
That means being responsive to tenants’ needs as they are relocated throughout the complex, especially elderly residents, Johnson said.
“A lot of it got rushed too quick,” perhaps to meet deadlines, he said of the renovations. “I just want to make sure everyone gets a fair shake. Everybody don’t have family (to help them move).”
So, Johnson pitches in when he can, reflecting on a biblical tradition.
“Help thy neighbor,” he said. “Morals count over money.”