City forms Redevelopment Authority

COVINGTON - The City Council has formed the Covington Redevelopment Authority to address residential and commercial blight.

The nine-member authority is charged with carrying out the city's recently approved Urban Redevelopment Plan, which was put in place to rehabilitate and replace substandard housing, encourage private investment in redevelopment, and qualify the city for state and federal funding programs to support such projects.

"This is a very important first step in community development. We have to solve the housing blight and redevelop in order to move ahead with economic prosperity," Mayor Kim Carter said. "Really, you can't separate community development from economic development. This is a tremendous first step in pushing us to the next level. And it's also the right thing to do for folks, to give them a hand up instead of a handout."

The city has created a Redevelopment area that is targeted for improvement. Local governments are authorized to create redevelopment areas under the state Urban Redevelopment Law. The areas must meet the legal definition of a slum: there must be a predominance of buildings, either residential or non-residential, that are dilapidated or in deterioration and/or conditions that endanger life or property; a combination of factors conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency or crime that is detrimental to public health safety, morals or welfare; faulty layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility or usefulness; and/or defective or inadequate street layout.

The city's Redevelopment Area contains 13 sub-areas: the Ga. Highway 36 corridor, Covington Mill, Emory Street, Fowler Street, Geiger Street, Green Acres, Harristown, Nelson Heights, North Covington, Sand Hill, Short Street, Texas Alley and the Washington Street corridor.

Covington code enforcement officers have been busy for months taking an inventory of housing in these areas. The information they collect is being uploaded into the GIS system.

Carter said their work is expected to be completed in one to two weeks and then, "We will have a comprehensive and detailed inventory of what's out there and from that the authority will be able to prioritize" which projects should be tackled first.

Funding is expected to come from state and federal programs.

Creating a redevelopment plan and forming the authority to manage it "opens up financing opportunities that would not otherwise be available," Carter said.

The authority could obtain federal monies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the departments of agriculture and energy. Examples of state funds that are available include the Department of Community Affairs, the Community Development Block Grant program and the OneGeorgia Fund.

The city's Housing Task Force, which determined the need for the redevelopment plan, is applying this year for a Georgia Initiative for Community Housing grant that offers communities three years of technical assistance related to housing and community development.

The goal is also to create financial incentives for private sector investment in redevelopment projects. For example, subdivisions such as Walker's Bend off Washington Street, which is sitting empty without an owner, could benefit from a private investor, Carter said.

The authority will not have the power of eminent domain, which will remain vested with the City Council, and will not have the power to levy taxes.

There are no plans to displace residents. If that is necessary, redevelopment will be undertaken only if residents can be relocated to suitable accommodations.

Carter said members of the authority must be brought up to speed on the current housing situation and will then form a plan of action.

Appointed by the mayor as chairman of the authority is Frank Turner Jr. and the vice chairman is Juanita Thompson. Both will serve three-year terms. Also serving a three-year term is Scott Cole. Serving two-year terms are Charles Skrobot, Clay Newman and Rasti Hollingsworth, and serving a one-year term are Tony Ramsey, Roger Smith and Michelle Cunniffe.

Any vacancy that occurs on the authority will be filled by the mayor.

Carter said she expects the authority to be in place long-term.

"We have such a blight, I can't imagine our Urban Redevelopment Plan could be completed in 10 years time," she said.

A meeting date for the authority has yet to be announced.

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