Decades after their neighborhood was marked with warning signs, residents of Augusta’s Hyde Park were promised Tuesday that they would finally be relocated to new homes.
Augusta Commission members voted 10-0 to use $2.8 million in sales taxes, which had been dedicated to engineering projects that are now covered by Transportation Investment Act funds, specifically for the relocation effort.
About 70 homeowners and renters remain in the south Augusta neighborhood, which will be leveled for a city detention pond.
Residents such as Horton Drive homeowner Louise Douse, 73, were cautiously optimistic after years of being told their neighborhood was unsafe and not to make improvements to their homes because they’d soon be relocated.
“I’m satisfied, as long as they go ahead and put it in action without delay,” said Douse, who has lived in the neighborhood since the mid-1950s.
Commissioners also heard from Hyde Park homeowner Barbara Williams, who questioned why homeowners sat and watched as vacant lots and abandoned homes were purchased and razed.
“In the last 30 days we have lost four more residents,” Williams said of the area’s aging members, many of whom have died since being told they would be moved.
Resident Jeffery Alan called lengthy delays in moving residents of the historically black neighborhood “institutionalized racism.”
District 2 Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson thanked former Administrator Fred Russell for believing in the project and fellow commissioners for seeing it through.
“This is a huge milestone,” John-son said at his final commission meeting. “Hopefully this is the last thing that has to be done by the commission.”
The project’s previous manager, former Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler, resigned two weeks ago.
Interim Director Hawthorne Welcher Jr. said he expects the $2.8 million to cover relocation expenses, which the city has completed under federal Uniform Relocation Guidelines, but not demolition or clearing of the remaining properties.
“From a housing professional standpoint,” Welcher said, the priority should be “to get the homeowners out.”
According to a report he presented, the city spent earlier funds on all aspects of the project, including appraisals, demolitions and legal work.
Of 114 eligible occupied properties, the project’s initial $4.5 million saw only 40 households relocated, including the bulk of Walnut, Willow and Goldenrod streets, while appraisals of most properties were completed and 44 homes were completely demolished.
Super District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams said he was glad the project moved forward but continued to push for an audit of how the initial $4.5 million was spent.
“I think what (Welcher) said brought some light to what I’ve been saying,” Williams said.
District 8 Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said the commission was obligated to finish the job.
Residents were “told not to do any modifications to their houses,” he said. “The ball’s already started rolling.”
Dedicating the funds to relocating residents leaves the rest of the detention pond project unfunded, said Engineering Director Abie Ladson, who helped allocate the $2.8 million approved Tuesday. Officials say the pond will help manage flooding.