New homes will replace public housing project

Complex replaces public housing project
Zach Boyden-Holmes/StaffThe Walton Oaks mixed income housing complex work site at the former Underwood Homes public housing project on Sand Bar Ferry near I-520 in Augusta.

Gone are any traces of the Underwood Homes public housing project that sat for decades off Sand Bar Ferry Road.

In its place is the wooden framework of apartment buildings, the beginnings of what Augusta housing officials hope will be the first of several mixed-income developments that would eventually replace most public housing projects in Richmond County.

The first of the proposed four-phase, $30 million dollar project should be complete in December, said Richard Arfman, director of planning and development for the Housing Authority of the City of Augusta. It will consist of 75 housing units for people 55 and older. The other three phases also will have 75 units each, providing 300 units total.

All of the units will be subsidized in some fashion, either as public housing or through rent reductions for people making 50 percent to 60 percent of the area's median income. The original proposal called for 10 percent of the units to be at market rate, but Arfman said the authority decided against it after the state Department of Community Affairs did away with that requirement and consultants and the developer of the project advised not to because they could be hard to lease.

When asked if this affected the original mixed-income intent, Arfman said: "A little bit. But with the tax credit units you have families who are making $30,000 to $32,000. These are still working class people."

So far, only two phases have been approved by the Department of Community Affairs for the needed tax credits to make the project economically viable, but Arfman said the agency doesn't expect problems getting the rest.

"Everything is going good," he said. "There are no glitches yet."

The only problem so far, Arfman said, are right-of-way issues with the Georgia Department of Transportation regarding the main entrance into the new complex, but he said that hasn't affected construction.

The development will be called Walton Oaks, named after Atlanta-based developer Walton Communities, which is building and will manage the facility. The senior complex, which will consist of one- and two-bedroom units, is tabbed Legacy at Walton Oaks.

This will be the housing authority's first mixed-income residential complex, having come after a similar proposed project in south Augusta turned into a debacle when homeowners in the affected area loudly complained that they hadn't been made aware of it.

This time, officials worked hard early in the process to address concerns of Sand Bar Ferry homeowners about the project to prevent a repeat of 2007, when residents from Georgetown, Meadowbrook, Breeze Hill, Hampton and Winchester subdivisions couldn't be persuaded that the development wouldn't drive down property values.

SOME AUGUSTA COMMISSIONERS who did not object to the project when it was proposed sided with the residents and joined members of the local legislative delegation to kill it.

In this venture, the housing authority laid out the timetable well in advance for everyone affected -- Underwood residents who would be moved to other public housing complexes or given Section 8 vouchers and homeowners nearby. The agency hopes this project will provide the impetus to replace all of the city's barracks-style public housing complexes with apartments, townhouses and, in some cases, detached homes where the poor and middle class live side by side.

Arfman said other public housing complexes, naming Cherry Tree Crossing and Dogwood Terrace, are definitely on the authority's radar.

Whether those projects get done depends a lot on what happens at Walton Oaks, Arfman acknowledged.

"If it is a success, it will be a big feather in our cap and will allow us to go forward with other plans," he said.

Project overview

Underwood Homes public housing project is being replaced by a $30 million mixed-income complex called Walton Oaks, which is being built in four phases.

- PHASE 1: The Legacy at Walton Oaks (senior), 75 units (12 public housing, 63 tax credit); construction started October 2010; completion date set for December 2011

- PHASE 2: Walton Oaks (family), 75 units (14 public housing, 61 tax credit); construction start date set for October 2011; completion date set for December 2012

- PHASE 3: Walton Oaks (family), 75 units (14 public housing, 61 tax credit); construction start date set for October 2012; completion date set for December 2013

- PHASE 4: Walton Oaks (family), 75 units (14 public housing, 61 tax credit); construction start date set for October 2113; completion date set for December 2014

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