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Residents wonder about future of Church Street Manor
No plans to redevelop Gainesville apartments at this time
Recently Church Street Manor residents received letters notifying them the current Section 8 contract will not be renewed when it expires in May 2017. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development prefers that a five-year Section 8 renewal agreement be signed, but the owners want to go year-to-year instead, which prompted the required notice.

Residents of Church Street Manor in Gainesville have received the notice before.

By now, it serves mostly as a reminder that they may one day have to move.

And that's a daunting prospect for many living there given the shortage of affordable housing across Hall County.

The 54-unit subsidized apartment complex houses elderly residents living on fixed incomes covered by Social Security and disability checks.

The notice arrived again recently with these words bolded: “This letter is to notify you that we do not intend to renew the current Section 8 contract when it expires.”

The complex across Jesse Jewell Parkway from the Northeast Georgia Medical Center could be redeveloped at some point in the coming years, though nothing is immediate.

“Nothing has changed,” said Frank Norton Jr., president and CEO of The Norton Agency real estate firm who manages the property. “It is simply a technicality.”

Norton said the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development prefers that a five-year Section 8 renewal agreement be signed to ensure long-term subsidized housing at the complex. But the property owners want to go year-to-year instead, which prompted them to send the required notice.

Owners have 120 days prior to the next expiration date of May 2017 to either renew the Section 8 contract for another year or opt out.

Willie Glenn, who moved into the complex last fall, said he found a separate notice on his door last Friday that aimed to clear any confusion by reminding tenants that they can remain at the complex for the foreseeable future.  

Norton said he has an agreement with city officials and is committed to helping relocate all tenants when and if the day comes to redevelop the complex.

He has already been in touch with the Gainesville Housing Authority, he added.

HUD, meanwhile, would provide vouchers to cover rent costs at a new location if residents have to move one day.

Still, that’s no guarantee they will find housing in Gainesville.

Local government, business and nonprofit leaders roundly agree that there is not enough affordable housing locally to support demand.  

About 65 percent of all households in Gainesville are renters, for example, a figure that is flipped statewide.

And more than half of all renters in Gainesville spend in excess of 30 percent of their income on housing, a federally recognized definition of affordable housing.

Wanda Turpin, an elderly resident who has lived at the Church Street Manor for the past three years, said that while it’s a relief to know she can keep her home for now, the prospect of having to move one day is daunting and worrying for these reasons.

She knows how difficult it might be to find a new place in-town that can provide low-income residents with access to public transportation, health care centers, grocery stores and other public services.

“You can look, but there’s nothing there,” Turpin said.

Norton is trying to address the issue with small single-family developments in the city, and has spoken of his desire to establish an investment fund to increase the affordable housing supply.

Patricia Garrett has lived at Church Street Manor for about four years, she said, and is also stressed about where she might live next.

“I wonder about that myself,” she said while discussing the issue with Turpin on a recent afternoon.

And resident Laura Haynes, who has lived at the complex for about a decade, said the annual notices about the potential fate of Church Street Manor have left her feeling a bit upended, not knowing where to turn or what to expect next.  

After all, Haynes added, the city's lack of affordable housing might force her to move “somewhere I don’t want to go.”  

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