SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - An affordable housing crunch deepens for the elderly and disabled in Savannah.
The recent sale of the Chatham Apartments has highlighted a wave of market rate development in the downtown area that’s priced out the city’s working poor, disabled and elderly, said Julie Wade, with the Chatham County Housing Coalition.
Those being forced out are fearful they won't have a place to go, and for some, time is running out.
"They are really panicking because they think they're going to be thrown out in the street, but it's not really like that," said one resident at Chatham Apartments.
For decades, Chatham Apartments has been one of the largest Section 8 high-rise apartments in the city. That chapter has ended with the sale in October to Abercorn Apartments LLC, which is represented by an Atlanta-based company called QR Capital.
For the mostly elderly and disabled who live there, they have until September to leave, they said. A relocation agency hired by the new owners has helped residents submit applications for other apartments.
But there's a long wait list all over town.
"I applied one place. They said it will be a year," said one woman who asked that we not use her real name.
She’s on a wait list for another apartment and is hopeful.
Three years ago, a City of Savannah Fair Housing study said there was a “major lack of housing for people with disabilities.”
The short-term outlook hasn’t changed.
"These people may be displaced from Savannah,” Wade said. "They may have to stay with relatives because we just don't have the inventory and housing stock here right now."
Wade, a member of Chatham County Housing Coalition, is part of a team of non-profits, government officials and private developers tasked with finding a solution for the affordable housing crunch. The crunch has meant for someone in Savannah to afford market rate apartments that person must earn about $18 an hour, Wade said. Any less, including those earning minimum wage, could find themselves stuck paying for substandard housing that often isn't safe.
The recent sale of Chatham Apartments caught many by surprise.
"There was a genuine disappointment throughout the community,” Wade said. "But the reality is I believe the transaction is legal and has met the regulations so there's no way to stop that transaction."
The new owner of the Chatham Apartments is Abercorn Apartments LLC. The newly formed company is represented by QR Capital in Atlanta. According to a representative there, the plans for the apartments are to renovate with no specific timeline or project details given. QR Capital's past projects include student housing projects and market rate apartments, according to its website.
"As we go around Savannah, you can't turn a corner without seeing some new development whether it's a big apartment complex or family housing complex, and what that's creating is a lack of housing at the bottom level," Wade said.
Long-term, there are apartments under construction or planned for those at the bottom income levels.
Developer Bill Gross has several of those kinds of projects in the works.
"This is really geared for folks - senior citizens - specifically who live on a fixed income - social security," said Gross, about his completion of the Ramona Riley Lofts. "The cost of housing both market rate rents and permanent housing has gone up so much in Savannah that it's left a real void."
The Ramona Riley Lofts recently opened at the corner of Anderson Street and Waters Avenue. Gross bought the building from the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and converted the old red brick schoolhouse into 30 apartments. He did it with financial help from state and federal historic tax credits, as well as support from the City of Savannah and its Waters Avenue Revitalization project, he said.
"Part of doing the structure or a project like this is holistically cleaning it up and really making it an icon for the community," said Gross, owner of W.H. Gross Construction.
There are another 27 units on the backside of the property in a brand new building that faces Henry Street.
Gross has an even larger project under construction off Wheaton Street called Live Oak Landing.
"That's 70 units of new construction for senior housing," Gross said. "This spring we'll be starting phase two which is 54 units."
Meanwhile, Dolores says she's hopeful it will all work out.
"Oh yeah, (the new owners of Chatham Apartments) are not going to throw us out like that. No, that's not going to happen," she said. “They’re going to have to provide us somewhere to stay or give us an extension or something until something comes through."
Many of the residents who spoke to WTOC said they consider Savannah their home, and do not want to leave the city. Some said they are prepared to live in a homeless shelter or with family until they can find a new home in the city.
A spokesperson for the new landlord said the company is offering tenants financial assistance for the relocation. Residents say the offer is $1,000 per person to cover moving costs.