The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority, which serves low-income residents in Rome and Rockmart, is hoping that by the end of this year it can be certified as its own developer to be in a better position to control the future of affordable housing in the two communities.
Stewart Duggan, the attorney for the housing authority, said that advantages to serving as lead developer for housing rehabilitation, or new construction, include control of the physical aspects of the projects as well as financial aspects.
“Right now we are partnering with co-developers because the Department of Community Affairs requires that the certifying developer have a certain amount of experience in the number of deals they have completed within a certain number of years,” Duggan said. “We don’t have that experience.”
Duggan believes that by the end of the year, the authority will have closed on its fifth tax credit deal to serve as primary developer. The NWGHA served as the lead developer for renovations at Willingham Village in 2015. The Charles Hight Highrise and Park Homes projects are slated to close as early as next week. The agency will close on a deal to take control of the Ashland Park development later this year and then plans to close on the new 60-plus unit apartment redevelopment at Altoview Terrace in East Rome by December.
“Once we become a certified, or stand-alone, developer in DCA’s eyes, we can then do everything ourselves instead of sharing a million-plus dollar developer fee. We can keep that money ourselves,” Duggan said.
At that point the housing authority gets to make all the decisions regarding redevelopment or new construction themselves. That is important, according to NWGHA Executive Director Sandra Hudson, in that typically speaking, given the importance Hudson and authority Chairman Lee Hight have placed for years in upgrading the quality of low-income housing, the construction will be superior to what is often the result of private development.
“It’s just more durable materials,” Duggan said.
Hudson said that units at Willingham Village, which were renovated less than 10 years ago, are already in less than ideal condition, in part because of the quality of materials used in the redevelopment.
Duggan explained that during that first deal at Willingham Village, the authority had to turn over management to its partner, Vantage.
“Mrs. Hudson takes a more hands-on approach to property management and has higher requirements and expectations for the tenants,” Duggan said.
Authority member Michael Taylor with Synovus Bank said that a lot of property managers don’t pay as much attention to detail and often cut corners to reduce costs.
“It creates an atmosphere where it’s not well kept. Also the tenant base, when they come in and people see the condition of an apartment, it’s like a roller-coaster slide down,” Taylor said.
“We’ll buy more durable materials that last a long time so we’re not replacing things as often,” Hight said. “You know when people have nice things they take better care of nice things.”
Hudson said that serving as their own developer would allow the authority to control the acquisition of materials, which can be done without having to pay sales taxes.
Hight makes it clear that in seeking to become a certified lead developer, the authority is not seeking to compete with other developers and general contractors in the area.
“This is only for housing authority properties,” Hight said.
Duggan chimed in, making it clear that the authority was only interested in low-income, affordable housing development.
Duggan did say that in becoming a stand-alone developer, the authority would have more flexibility on dealing with the city of Rome. He used the senior housing at Etowah Terrace as an example.
“The city of Rome partnered with Mercy Housing to build Etowah,” Duggan said. If the NWGHA were to participate in a future development of a similar nature, all of the control for that project would remain in local hands, including developers’ fees.
The authority has been serving as its own general contractor on several recent projects including the new Joe Wright Village development off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The new, gated public housing community is now more than 50% complete.
Two new single family homes on Maple Street are nearing completion and several duplex developments along the Maple Street and East 12th Street corridors are in varying stages of development.