Affordable housing changes coming to West Savannah

Published: Dec. 19, 2019 at 8:05 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - As the cost of housing continues to climb, so does the number of people who cannot afford a decent place to live.

Savannah taxpayers recently signed off on a $10 million plan to tackle blight and affordable housing.

A new yellow house on Cumming Street has become a symbol of the change ahead in West Savannah.

There’s a transformation underway that’s expected to touch neighborhoods across the city.

Last month, the sound of fresh new sod being laid in the front yard of 223 Cumming Street in West Savannah punctuated the excitement for neighbors.

"It's going to change the face of things, and with that we are excited," Pastor Marsha Buford, president of the West Savannah Neighborhood organization, said.

The yellow home is the newest addition to the neighborhood, and seven more homes like it are expected to be built in the next year.

Visible change began earlier this year when a bulldozer knocked down two derelict homes on that site to make way for the fresh new build.

A look inside now reveals modern finishes. It's three bedrooms, two bathrooms at just over 1,100 square feet with a smart layout; the master bedroom is split from the front two bedrooms making it ready for a family.

It will list at $150,000, said developer Darrel Daise, of Community Housing Services Agency.

The nonprofit estimates the monthly mortgage payments will be somewhere around $750 to $900.

"That's affordable," Daise added.

Affordable is what Savannah needs. The most recent figures from the U.S. Census estimate 43 percent of the population cannot afford housing without being cost-burdened, according to the 2012- 2016 American Community Survey Data as referenced by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Cost burdened means a family is having to spend more than 30 percent of its income on rent or a mortgage.

The reality families face in Savannah is part of a nationwide trend.

"You have housing costs going this way and incomes staying flat," said Martin Fretty, director of Savannah's Housing and Neighborhood Services. “The way a lot of people are having to solve that problem is by working two or three jobs."

Fretty is tasked with spending the $10 million voters approved to acquire blighted properties and prime them for redevelopment.

The goal to acquire 1,000 properties over the next 10 years by leveraging the funds from the property sale.

So, where in Savannah will city staff focus their efforts?

"Our first effort would be to look east and west of the area that's already experiencing growth and development to help stabilize and retain properties available for modest income workers," he said.

At some point, he said the city will turn its attention to the Carver Village and the Canal District, which is expected to see growth in the coming years. It's also where the city is building a $165 million arena using taxpayer funds.

For West Savannah, the efforts it took to celebrate the transformation on Cumming Street included a change to state law.

The new law has given more local control for a city government to acquire property using eminent domain. Fretty described it as adding a two-step process where the city must prove to a judge that the property meets the definition of blight.

After that, the property is appraised to determine the amount the city will pay. It's still an arduous court process, and one used only as a last resort, Fretty added.

As president of the West Savannah neighborhood organization, Pastor Buford has been there every step of the way, and she has advice for other neighborhoods wanting to rid the blight.

"It is worth it," she said. "It may seem a little tedious. It may take a little long. But in the need, the outcome is far greater."

For the new homes on Cumming Street, the city will qualify buyers through its Dream Maker program.

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