A question-and-answer session with Augusta Community Housing Development Organizations, or CHDOs, revealed successes by several of the groups but offered little explanation for the city’s having to repay more than $300,000 in federal funds intended for housing developments.
During the session, requested by Commissioner Jerry Brigham to detail spending of 2005 and 2006 grant awards, $300,000 of which had to be repaid, most of the CHDOs listed successful housing efforts closed out within U.S. Housing and Urban Development deadlines.
The East Augusta Community Development Corp., however, had scant explanation for why houses in the Marion Homes subdivision off Sand Bar Ferry Road were never built, the reason for most of the federal refund demand.
East Augusta Director Charlene Watkins said all the HUD money designated for Marion Homes – $292,128, according to a chart provided by city officials – was spent on acquisition and demolition, with mowing of cleared lots sometimes costing $1,000 apiece.
Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler, whose department dispenses federal money to the CHDOs, said the city engineering department didn’t have time to fix drainage issues in Marion Homes by the federal due date, preventing the homes from being built.
The city engineering director “is focusing on earlier stages of sewer enhancements and cannot get to Marion Homes at this particular time,” Wheeler said.
City Administrator Fred Russell said East Augusta spent all the money on demolition and cleanup of several lots “under the assumption that the flooding is something that would be dealt with.”
A city chart showed that East Augusta, which was founded by Commissioner J.R. Hatney, completed just one project – two new single family homes on Magnolia Avenue – since 2005. Hatney, no longer the group’s chief executive, did not attend the work session Monday.
Other CHDOs detailed their successes. Antioch Ministries’ Scylance Scott listed 10 new houses built and seven sold since 2006.
Shiela Boazman of Promise Land CHDO, which focuses on rehabilitating foreclosed properties, listed 51 homes bought and remodeled and more than 30 of them sold.
Robert Cooks, CEO of the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp., said that despite the challenges, groups like his improve neighborhoods ignored by the market “just because of location, place and race. We establish the market; we bring it back,” he said.