Poor choice of word

Proposed 'slum' designation for Augusta exposes flaw in state law

They sure don’t like the word, but they’ll take the money that comes with it.

And they’re not alone.

An Augusta Commission committee Monday will consider a resolution declaring a good chunk of the city core to be a “slum” area under state law, in order to raise $26.5 million in urban development funds for the $40 million City Hall renovation.

State law requires the
unsavory designation before the city can raise the funds. But
denizens of Augusta were shocked when the news hit Friday that city leaders were willing to declare downtown a slum, even while not really meaning it, and even still for money.

And the headline that they were considering doing so went out far beyond Augusta.

That’s not quite fair.

First off, the unfortunate wording is a creation of state law that dates to the 1950s.

Secondly, while we have serious needs and shortcomings, no one would ride or walk through the city core, particularly through what most of us regard as downtown, and think it a “slum” by any stretch of the imagination.

Thirdly, this isn’t the first time this particular legal indignity has had to be swallowed here; we did it in 2010, in regard to the ongoing Laney-Walker redevelopment.

Lastly, it so happens that other communities in Georgia have likewise held their noses and passed similar resolutions to take advantage of raising urban development funds.

“Slums are popping up all over metro Atlanta,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in May 2010. “At last count, 10 cities and counties in the region declared part of themselves a slum – a necessary step to apply as a state Opportunity Zone.”

The real culprit here isn’t the Augusta Commission, but the state law – which not only forces cities and counties to denigrate themselves to create “Opportunity Zones,” but which also stretches the definition of “slums” beyond recognition.

“(S)lums are in the eye of the beholder,” the Atlanta newspaper wrote. “Homes worth $300,000 and up to $1 million surround the new ‘slum’ in Sandy Springs.”

“It is plainly apparent that our downtown is not a slum,” Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver wrote to us in response to our inquiry. “Just this week I did an interview with the National Association of Counties out of Washington, as they’ve chosen Augusta as a national case study for successful local economic development initiatives. They will be featuring the success of our Laney Walker/Bethlehem Redevelopment, our recruitment of Starbucks and the success of the Convention Center (exceeding revenue projections) among other initiatives.

“Just this month our city center will host TechNet Augusta (1,500 to 2,000 attendees), Border Bash, Arts in the Heart and the Half Ironman, which all will have a huge economic impact on our city. I seriously doubt the organizers of any of these events would consider our downtown a slum, and I certainly don’t. It’s unfortunate that we have to use this term to access state funding, but using it ultimately helps save the taxpayers money.”

There’s no reason our good and decent burgs must flog themselves in the public square to seek redevelopment money. Maybe the state should confine “slum” funding to areas of true and rampant blight.

In either case, another word with less emotional baggage could be found.

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