Relocating about 110 families from the Hyde Park neighborhood will take up to five years, but it will happen, Augusta Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler said Wednesday.
Speaking to a capacity crowd of middle- and senior citizen-age Hyde Park homeowners, property owners and renters at the auditorium of Clara Jenkins school, Wheeler detailed the plan for relocating residents, which will follow federal relocation guidelines.
Voting in October to spend $2.3 million on land acquisition and the initial design phases of a massive drainage project to occupy the Hyde Park site, the Augusta Commission “chose to adopt the federal Uniform Relocation Act guidelines,” Wheeler said. “They didn’t have to.”
Although the project isn’t federally funded, the stricter federal guidelines mean residents will receive relocation expenses and assistance to move into homes or apartments of equal size and value.
The city will help Hyde Park homeowners into new homes of their choosing, including those under construction in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. Their choices must be approved by the city in order to receive compensation.
Homeowners whose mortgages are paid off will receive lump-sum payments equal to the value of their houses, determined by an independent appraiser, Wheeler said.
Residents had many questions, including how the assistance could help church-owned properties, unpaid tax bills and whether senior residents could relocate to public senior citizen housing.
“There are so many families and so many varying elements with each family,” Wheeler said, promising a city staffer will meet individually with each family to guide them through the process. Family interviews begin March 5, he said. The moves will take place in phases, with the first phase involving residents living north of Goldenrod Street. The city will set up a relocation office at 2024 Goldenrod St., Wheeler said, estimating the city will move about 25 families a year.
The meeting was attended by City Administrator Fred Russell and Commissioner Corey Johnson, who made relocating Hyde Park residents a campaign promise. The area, just off Gordon Highway, was long rumored to be contaminated by a nearby Superfund site. But despite dropping property values, the claims haven’t risen to the level to force an evacuation.