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Walker's Bend builders selected

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Three local builders have been selected to construct homes in Walker's Bend, the neighborhood off Ga. Highway 81 that is the focus of the city of Covington's housing initiative.

Builder James Ashley Smith with Atlanta Fire and Restoration Service of Covington, Bob Goucher with BOMAR Inc. of Oxford, and Terry Wayne Holmes with T&J Holmes Inc. of Social Circle submitted successful RFPs to the Covington Redevelopment Authority. Builders were selected based on qualifications and capacity to borrow money to finance construction.

Planning Director Randy Vinson said 20 houses will be built based on available funding. The builders are working together to determine prices for eight house plans ranging in size from just shy of 800 square feet to 1,200 square feet.

"The main reason we're targeting that size is that the fact that we're building to EarthCraft standards runs the price up per square foot," Vinson said, referring to energy and resource efficient standards the homes will meet. "The only way to get them affordable is to reduce the square footage. We really felt the market is going to be in the $75,000 to $95,000 price range and the banks agree that is about the maximum they see us being able to do right now."

The city received a $300,000 grant from the Community HOME Investment Program of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to provide down payment assistance to prospective home buyers. Qualified buyers will receive $14,999 in down payment assistance in the form of a forgivable loan.

If a buyer remains in the home for six years, the loan will be forgiven. If the buyer sells the home before the six years is up, a pro-rated share of the loan must be repaid.

Prospective buyers are required to attend a financial counseling program that will begin in February. Once they are deemed by the instructor to be eligible, they can select a home plan and apply for down payment assistance. Once DCA gives preliminary approval, the buyer and builder will meet and the builder will obtain a construction loan. The down payment assistance application will be formally submitted only when construction is complete and a certificate of occupancy is issued for the house, meaning there is some risk for the builder, Vinson said. But even if the homebuyer is not approved for assistance, another homebuyer should be waiting in the wings, he said.

Builders will be assigned to homes based on a "round robin" format. They'll draw numbers and whoever chooses No. 1 will build the first house, No. 2 will build the second, and so forth. It's Vinson's hope that at least 10 homes can be completed this year, with the remaining 10 finished in 2012.

The Covington Redevelopment Authority owns 42 single-family lots and seven mixed-use, multifamily pads bought in foreclosure through several banks. The authority is acting as developer.

In a separate matter, 32 rental homes will be built in Walker's Bend beginning this spring by Affordable Equity Partners Inc. The homes will range from 1,400 to 1,600 square feet and will be rented to low-income individuals. Affordable Equity obtained tax credits for the project and will own the homes for at least 15 years and maintain the grounds during that time.

Vinson said Walker's Bend should start flourishing within the next few months.

"We think we'll be showing great things by summer," he said.