Augusta’s largest public housing project is officially scheduled for demolition and replacement with a new mixed-income apartment development at the same spot.
On Tuesday, Augusta Housing Authority will begin meeting with about 400 families housed at Cherry Tree Crossing about plans to move them, starting in June after schools let out, said the authority’s executive director, Jacob Oglesby.
The endeavor, which requires formal approval by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will follow the same model as Walton Oaks, an east Augusta mixed-income apartment complex that is replacing, in phases, the former Underwood Homes at the same location, Oglesby said.
“As we finish that one, we’re moving on,” he said. “Cherry Tree was a likely candidate for that.”
The plan probably accommodates Georgia Department of Transportation’s scheduled widening of 15th Street and the city’s master plan for redeveloping the 15th Street-Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard corridor, although Oglesby wasn’t certain Thursday how all those pieces will fit together.
It also follows a trend in public housing of replacing barracks-style residences for low-income residents with mixed-income developments built through public-private partnerships.
“We all need to get away from that model (to) more of a mixed-income type model,” Oglesby said. “That’s what we’re moving toward.”
Built in the 1950s, Cherry Tree is in Augusta Commission and school board District 2 but will move into District 1 in January after a new district map goes into effect.
District 2 Commissioner Corey Johnson said it was good for Cherry Tree residents to know.
“There has been a lot of talk about it, whether it would be redeveloped or torn down,” Johnson said Thursday after a meeting of housing authority members, commissioners and Augusta legislators, where all were briefed on the plan for Cherry Tree.
“(Some residents) thought MCG was going to get it, close it down and move them out,” Johnson said. “Now they know for sure, and people won’t think they don’t have anywhere to go. They are going to have options.”
Although many families have made Cherry Tree home over the past 50 years, it was likely time for the complex to go, Johnson said.
“It’s time, for the redevelopment and the quality of life there,” he said. “It’s past time. Cherry Tree has an impact on Bethlehem, an impact on Turpin Hill, on Paine College and MCG. It’s not going to be an easy process, but at the end of the day, because of the fact that the units are so old, and there’s just not enough positive things going on right now.”
The housing authority has learned a lot since nearby Gilbert Manor housing project was demolished in 2009 to make way for Georgia Health Sciences University’s new dental school, Oglesby said. One of the biggest lessons was in working with families of school-age children and the school system to ensure their education wasn’t interrupted, he said. The authority also learned that some residents “preferred the safety net of public housing” to negotiating rents and dealing with landlords in privately owned homes.
Some of those residents “did not fare well,” and after not succeeding in the Section 8 system “were killed out” and left to fend for themselves, Johnson said.
Oglesby said resident options will include moving to other housing authority developments, to senior apartments or to privately owned housing using vouchers.
Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, said at the meeting that he hoped this time the authority would track residents’ transitions from the development to new homes.
“You’re talking about in less than a year, starting to move people out,” he said.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he hoped Walton Oaks residents could serve as “advocates” for the relocated residents.
District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken, who will gain the 30-acre Cherry Tree site if he’s re-elected to the commission Nov. 6, said District 1’s Walton Oaks is a good model.
“People are very pleased with that across the spectrum,” he said.
When all phases are complete, Walton Oaks will consist of 300 units, with 30 percent reserved for very low-income families, Oglesby said.
HUD approval of the Cherry Tree plans is likely, and the housing authority has a meeting with residents in the Cherry Tree community room scheduled at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oglesby said.
Relocation options will become available in June, but the entire endeavor will take several years to complete, with construction unlikely to begin until 2014 and the new apartments to open in three or four phases of 75-100 units each. The authority will continue to reoccupy units until demolition starts, meaning no boarded-up units, he said.