BOC still discussing land options
Board undecided on grant to purchase foreclosed properties

COVINGTON - The Board of Commissioners is still mulling over whether to file an application for a grant to purchase and resell foreclosed properties.

Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin gave a third presentation on the Neighborhood Stabilization Program at the board's Tuesday night meeting, but no action was taken.

Sirotkin said the county would need to hire a consultant to handle the application, which is due in January. Up to $130,000 of the grant could be used for that purpose.

In addition, since the county has no experience with this type of program, it would need to partner with another county or nonprofit organization that does, he said. Sirotkin said he has not identified any surrounding counties that could be partners, but added that Henry County may be a possibility.

Another option would be to form a new entitity such as a land bank authority to perform NSP activities.

"I like a challenge, I like to learn new things, but I don't know that I'm the one to get an application done in the very short six-week time frame," Sirotkin said. "I think we need some help."

The NSP is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and, on the state level, by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

About half of the $155 million available to Georgia has already been allocated by HUD to specific jurisdictions, leaving $77 million for local governments to compete over.

The grant money can be used "to purchase foreclosed or abandoned homes and to rehabilitate, resell or redevelop these homes in order to stabilize neighborhoods and stem the decline of house values of neighboring homes," according to HUD.

In Georgia, DCA will determine eligibility for funding based on demonstration of need and capability to implement the program.

Based on a formula used by DCA to calculate allocations, Newton County could be awarded $2.1 million. According to Sirotkin, that would be enough to purchase about 15 properties.

Potential resell purchasers must be low-moderate-medium income families earning less than 120 percent of the area median income, which in Newton County was $69,200 for 2008, according to Sirotkin.

At least 25 percent of funds must assist very low income families earning less than 50 percent of the area median income.

For 2008, low-moderate-medium families earning less than $83,040 and very low income families earning $55,360 or less would be eligible.

The board has been divided down party lines on whether to get involved in the program, with Republican commissioners saying government should stay out of the housing business and Democratic commissioners saying a little help is better than none.

District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming has been a vocal opponent of the county participating, and he reiterated his position Tuesday night.

"As a citizen, if my commissioner voted for something like this I'd want to run him out of town," Fleming said.

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said he doubts the county would be approved for the grant.

"It seems to me that even if we were to do this we would have a very slim chance of being approved," Ewing said. "Secondly, I would be strongly opposed to hiring staff, hiring a consultant, to help fill out an application we don't even think we're going to get (approved)."

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson has been just as vocal in his support of the program as Fleming and Ewing in their opposition.

"If we can get 15 homes renovated and give them to somebody, that would be 15 homes less than would be open for somebody to be doing something (illegal)," he said, noting that the empty homes are ripe for criminal activity.

The board did not take action on the matter, and Sirotkin said he believes it will be taken up again, though he couldn't say when.

If the county opts not to file an application this go round, there is a second round of funding available, he said.

The county and city of Covington were to file a joint application for the grant. Sirotkin said if the county does not participate, the city may still be able to pursue funding, but that is still being researched.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.