Walton Oaks, off Sand Bar Ferry Road, is built on the former site of the Underwood Homes public housing project. The 75 two- and three-bedroom apartments target individuals and families earning at or below 60 percent of the median area household income.
The property is developed and managed by Atlanta-based Walton Communities, which operates 15 mixed-income developments in the Atlanta area. Of the 75 new Walton Oaks units, the Augusta Housing Authority manages 14 reserved for public housing tenants.
At the grand opening celebrations, state Rep. Wayne Howard said the city and the housing authority need to continue rebuilding and redeveloping dilapidated housing complexes.
“I knew and still know some of the stories of Underwood. Public housing initially started out to be a stepping stone for us to move and build ourselves a better quality of life,” Howard said. “We’ve got to make sure we remember the least of those will always be among us.”
The smoke-free complex features tall oak trees, manicured landscape, a playground, fitness center and a library with computer access. A children’s activity center will provide free after-school care for residents. Residents receive one free reading book a month and children can enroll in a reading program.
Tenants must pass credit and background checks. Rents range from $663 to $754 for the 1,088 and 1,178 square-feet units.
Residents began moving into Walton Oaks on July 5. Overall, the complex is 28 percent occupied. The 14 public housing units are occupied, said Melissa Whirledge, the director of marketing for Walton Communities.
“We want to build a neighborhood that is a community that thrives. We are looking for residents who really want to improve upon their life,” Whirledge said.
The first phase – Legacy at Walton Oaks – opened in October for residents older than 55.
Richard Arfman, the Augusta Housing Authority’s director of planning and development, said the city will continue building mixed-income communities.
Augusta is following a trend used across the nation to replace barrack-style public housing with modern apartment homes. In 2008, the Augusta Housing Authority sold Gilbert Manor to the Medical College of Georgia. It was razed before the demolition of Underwood Homes.
Arfman said no former Underwood Homes residents are living at Walton Oaks, although the housing authority did reach out to them. The 14 public housing tenants were removed from the housing authority’s waiting list.
“We didn’t want to get 100 percent public housing by any means. We wanted to get mixed-income so the quality is good,” he said.
The housing authority has applied to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to fund a third phase of 106 family units, Arfman said. If approved, construction could begin in 2013. A fourth phase of 44 units for seniors is also planned.