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Letter: Expanding Hall County's NSP grant would ease affordable housing crisis
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Thursday night, the Hall County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on a proposal that would alter how it will use the remaining $900,000 provided by the federal government through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. This federal money can only be used for the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed and abandoned homes and residential properties.

Hall County has used this money to purchase more than 60 foreclosed homes that might otherwise have remained vacant and dilapidated. Using the NSP money, these homes were renovated and sold to low-income families. As a result of the decline in foreclosures, Hall County seeks approval to expand this program so that it can purchase homes that are in blighted condition even if not in foreclosure.

According to Jessica Robinson, Hall County grants manager, if approved, the federal money will be used to purchase abandoned and dilapidated properties which will be redeveloped into affordable housing. This proposal does not represent the government competing with the private sector; instead, the county would be buying and redeveloping properties in which no one else is interested.

Hall County is in desperate need of more affordable housing, as a recent series of articles in The Times clearly illustrated. As the Times reported, about 1 in 4 homeowners in Hall County are cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their household income towards their housing costs. The rental market in Hall County is even tougher; nearly half of all renters find themselves cost-burdened.

These statistics indicate that there is a scarcity of truly affordable housing in the county. Increasing the county’s supply of affordable housing helps the community’s economy as a whole. As The Times has reported, affordable housing helps create and sustain jobs, increases the tax base and helps generate new consumer spending as households have more money to put back into the local economy.

This proposed use of the NSP funds is consistent with Gainesville’s Consolidate Plan 2014-2018, submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which found that 41.7 percent of the city's current housing stock was constructed prior to 1980 and as such was more likely to fall into substandard condition. The consolidated plan identified as priorities providing affordable rental and ownership housing options and addressing the condition of the city’s existing housing stock.

If approved, this change will not only increase the supply of affordable housing but increase the value of surrounding properties. Vacant and abandoned properties have a documented negative effect on the value of neighboring properties. Research links foreclosed, vacant and abandoned properties with reduced property values, increased crime, increased risk to public health and welfare, and increased costs for municipal governments.

The expansion of the NSP program to allow the purchase and renovation of blighted properties would serve the housing needs of citizens by improving neighborhoods, increasing property values, and providing affordable housing.

Chad McCranie
Staff Attorney, Housing Preservation Project, Georgia Legal Services Program, Gainesville

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