Originally created 12/23/99

Area's residents complain of drugs



The house at 2829 Brentway Drive is a problem the neighborhood wants solved.

The house was purchased by the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority two years ago to give homeless families and individuals a place to live for one to two years until they could move into more permanent housing.

However, several homeowners in Brentwood -- a 68-home subdivision in south Augusta -- say the house isn't being used properly.

The house is empty now.

But Brentwood homeowners have complained that previous occupants were seen soliciting clothing and going door-to-door asking for money and food at odd hours of the night. Some say they suspect the residence housed drug users.

Now, Brentwood residents want the house out of their neighborhood before its new occupants arrive, which the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority says will be in January.

After receiving reports about the occupants from her neighbors, Denise Hocker, president of Brentwood Neighborhood Watch, visited the county tax assessor's office to learn who paid taxes on the property. That was when she learned the authority had turned the house into a supportive home for the homeless.

"This is one of the big concerns of the (Neighborhood) Watch," Ms. Hocker said.

"I am afraid that something will happen to one of the children in this neighborhood," she said. "If it happens to one child, it has happened to one too many. We are definitely concerned about that. They (the authority's officials) did not inform us they were moving into this neighborhood. ... They have proven they are not trustworthy.

"A resident that stayed there told me he moved out because he had given his life to the Lord and he didn't want to be in the atmosphere where they were doing drugs," Ms. Hocker said.

Lola Johnson, community services block grant director for the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority, said the program doesn't require drug testing. But after Brentwood residents' recent complaints, the authority adopted a drug-testing policy for all occupants, she said.

"(Homeless clients) always signed a statement saying that they were drug-free," Ms. Johnson said. "But when this came up we said, `Let's just be sure.'

"Families have a right to live wherever," she said. "If we were a little lax, we certainly regret that. We don't notify (neighbors) because we have to be concerned about the safety of the (homeless) family.

"We have had our first homeowners who came out of this program who are gainfully employed and are contributing back to the community," Ms. Johnson said.

Keven Mack, director of housing and neighborhood development, said the house was paid for with a community block grant. The authority received more than $100,000 to purchase three of seven houses it currently operates.

If the authority had set up a transitional home -- one where residents live for 90 days -- the law requires officials to hold a public hearing to allow commissioners and neighbors to voice opinions before zoning decisions become final, said George Patty, Augusta planning and zoning director.

But the authority's Brentwood house is treated like other rental property, he said, where residents lease the home from the authority -- for little or no rent -- and live there for 12 to 24 months.

Referred by homeless shelters, some occupants have lived in the Brentwood house for as few as nine months, Ms. Johnson said. At least one occupant must be employed to qualify for the housing, she said.

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.