Originally created 07/31/98

Group will offer lower-cost housing



The groundbreaking at Amherst -- a new Columbia County subdivision offering houses priced below $100,000 -- may signal a trend toward the development of more affordable housing in Columbia County, filling a void in the county's booming housing market, developers say.

"This is a win-win for Columbia County," County Commission Chairman Jim Whitehead said at the groundbreaking. "This is a very good level to help our young people and old people like me who no longer want to live in a 3,000-square-foot home."

Located off Columbia Road next to Augusta Golf Centers Inc., the groundbreaking was held Thursday for the new subdivision with homes to be priced in the $70,000 to $100,000 range.

"I think there's a need for low to moderately priced housing in Columbia County," said Greg Bowles, president of the Metro-Augusta Builders Association. "There is certainly a shortage of houses in that price range."

New home building permits show the average cost of a new home in Columbia County over the past four months to be $123,700, said Kendal Jones, director of planning and development.

The 118-acre subdivision will be developed over the next eight years with the construction of 350 to 400 new homes, said Brad Hodge, vice president of Nordahl Realty Inc.

Lot sizes average 55-feet wide by 130-feet deep, and houses in the subdivision will range from 1,036 to 1,424 square feet. Some will have single garages and all will have vinyl siding. The first home should be completed within 90 days, with 40 to 50 going up in the first year, he added.

A pioneer in developing affordable housing in Columbia County, Mark Herbert of Herbert Homes Inc., is now marketing Campbell's Crossing near Harlem, which offers homes in the $70,000 to $80,000 price range. Lots average 3/4 to 1 acre and the all-brick homes range in size from 1,249 square feet to 1,700 square feet.

Both Mr. Hodge and Mr. Herbert agree that the cost of land is what drives up home prices in Columbia County.

"The reason homes are so much more expensive in Columbia County is the land cost," said Mr. Hodge. "We were able to purchase this land at a really good price and we're able to develop it and keep our costs down."

Mr. Herbert, who is now finishing the second phase of Campbell's Crossing, said he is trying to buy more land for a new subdivision.

"With what we're paying for land in Columbia County, you would think there's gold under it," said Mr. Herbert, who is past president of the Georgia Home Builders Association and chairman of the Columbia County Construction Advisory Board. "It's the supply and demand factor right now. But it's hard to pay $15,000 to $30,000 an acre for raw land and put affordable housing on it. Land is extremely expensive. It's getting scary."

Not only does providing affordable housing fill a need for young buyers, but also for older buyers who may be wanting to scale down the size and cost of their home.

"All of the sudden your kids are looking for a home, or your parents are wanting to move down and they can't find anything that's affordable," Mr. Herbert said. "By producing houses in the $70,000 to $100,000 range, that's going to fill a big void.

"Nordahl is my competitor, but that makes his neighborhood a winner in my opinion, because he is filling a need for people in those categories. I've been preaching this for the last 10 years and I'm glad to see it's finally come to light."