Covington gets grant for Walker's Bend

COVINGTON — The city of Covington has been awarded a nearly $300,000 grant from the Community HOME Investment Program to provide down payment assistance to potential home buyers in the Walker's Bend subdivision.

A program of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, CHIP funds may be used to provide down payment assistance or homeowner rehabilitation funding to eligible low and moderate income households. The city received $299,980 for down payment assistance on new or existing homes in Walker's Bend, off Ga. Highway 81, the site of the city's Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the first target of its housing initiative.

Planning Director Randy Vinson said an estimated 18 home buyers could be helped with $15,000 down payments. The grant will also cover approximately $20,000 for an administrator. DCA requires communities receiving the grant hire an administrator with CHIP experience. There are 33 vacant lots in Walker's Bend at this time owned by the Covington Redevelopment Authority.

The next step is to put together a marketing campaign to attract qualified home buyers and builders, Vinson said. Home buyers seeking down payment assistance will apply to DCA for approval. Once approved, they will be paired with an approved builder. Vinson said he expects several builders to apply, and to be fair, a drawing will determine sequencing. In other words, the first builder drawn will be paired with the first home buyer and so on.

Fifteen local governments and two nonprofit organizations received CHIP grants totaling more than $5.1 million.

In other news, Mayor Kim Carter once again cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the final reading of the Walker's Bend Overlay Zoning District ordinance Monday night. As with the first reading two weeks ago, the council was split 3 to 3, with the sticking point being that there is no minimum square footage requirement, and some homes could be built at less than 700 square feet. Councilmen Keith Dalton, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley all voted in opposition, with Councilwomen Ocie Franklin, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams in favor.

The overlay establishes standards for property maintenance and the design of future development in Walker's Bend. It requires that homes be built to Earthcraft House Standards, a set of guidelines for energy and resource efficient homes.

The smaller homes will be higher quality than many larger homes, built at a higher cost per square foot, according to Vinson, and will be targeted to singles, retired couples and others who don't want to deal with maintenance, upkeep and utilities that come with a large house.

Sales in Walker's Bend will be market driven; there will be no spec homes built, he said. Not all of the homes will be small, but he said the Redevelopment Authority needs to be able to provide that option for those looking to downsize. The idea is to get away from the cookie cutter type subdivisions and build homes in a variety of sizes for people in all stages of life — from couples starting out, to families, to empty nesters, to retirees, he said.