Augusta Commission member Joe Jackson was held up by committee meetings Monday, so he showed up late at the groundbreaking ceremony on Dover Street.
“It looks like you’ve already broken ground,” he said jokingly, looking out at a bare dirt site already bulldozed. The new accessible housing project by Walton Community Services, its 15th in the Augusta area, is also part of a turnaround for the Dover-Lyman area of south Augusta led by community groups and religious and city leaders.
Independent Living Horizons Fifteen will have 12 units for those with disabilities who need accessible bathrooms and kitchens. Two hundred fifteen people are on the waiting list for accessible units with Walton, and there is about a five-year wait, said Beth Miller, the vice president of Community Services.
“There’s a huge need for affordable and accessible housing for people,” she said.
Said Kisha Carey-Spann, the residential services housing director: “When people get into these apartments, especially when they need them, they don’t move out. So we have to build to keep up with the need.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, 18,502 people between the ages of 16 and 64 had a disability in Augusta; 10,514 were older than 65.
Carey-Spann knows firsthand what it is like to try to live in a place that is not accessible. Often in a wheelchair because of nerve problems in her legs from chronic Guillain-Barré syndrome, she went home from the hospital thinking she would return to normal life – “just in a wheelchair,” Carey-Spann said.
“But there was a distinct difference,” she said. “It became a prison for me, and I could not function at all. I had to get help to do everything, even to go to the restroom. So these apartments offer so much for somebody in a wheelchair, especially because we are able to function so much better. I can do everything by myself in my apartment.”
The bare lot symbolizes a step forward for the neighborhood. Dennis Skelley, the president of community services, said Walton was approached five years ago by City Administrator Fred Russell to get involved in the neighborhood revitalization and work with community activists already trying to clean things up.
“There were houses of prostitution,” said Robert Garrett, of the Alleluia Community. “There was gunfire every night.”
“Drugs,” said Norman Michael, the executive director of Augusta Georgia Land Bank Authority.
“Drugs everywhere,” Garrett said. “It was really a bad neighborhood. Now it is nothing like that.”
Michael can tick off four new houses built or being built by Community Housing Development Organizations, two from Habitat for Humanity and another from Alleluia. The new apartments will replace dilapidated housing and represent a new start.
“It is a renewal of the neighborhood,” Michael said.