Originally created 02/24/01

County welcomes new housing



Don't call it "subsidized housing," developers say.

Not only does the tag have a negative connotation, but the description would be wrong.

Wedgewood Park Apartments on Old Evans Road in Martinez is the first affordable housing development of its kind in Columbia County. The 200-unit apartment is the result of a federal tax incentive program known as the Low-Income Housing Credit.

Rather than providing a taxpayer subsidy, the program offers development tax credits and is spearheaded through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The $13.5 million dollar apartment complex encompasses 20 acres and is 83 percent leased.

Partners in the project gathered Friday along with VIPs and residents to officially welcome the development, completed in September. Leasing for finished units began in May.

The complex only accepts people with family incomes equaling 60 percent or less of the median Columbia County family income. For a family of four, the median is $42,700 a year.

Rent starts at $410 a month.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., returned to his home county to praise the "absolutely gorgeous" development. Mr. Norwood recently sponsored legislation supporting expanded tax credits for investors in lower-income housing. The tax credits offset the expenses of offering reduced rent while maintaining quality.

"This fits into a county that, frankly, is growing so fast and doing so well," the congressman said.

Mr. Norwood said the affordable housing option allows those with children in particular to reside in the county and take advantage of the much-touted school system.

Wedgewood Park residents Melissa Sumner and her husband, Michael, both 24, relocated to the area from Albany so that he could attend the Medical College of Georgia. Between his schooling and her taking care of their 20-month-old, the income they derive from part-time jobs is tight.

Mrs. Sumner said the apartments have been a blessing. "Choices are limited for people on a fixed income - whether it's temporary or whatever," she said.

David H. Dixon, development partner with the Norsouth Corp., which specializes in lower-income housing projects, gave the Columbia County Commission credit for backing the project.

"On the local level there is such confusion as to what is `subsidized' housing. The easy way is to oppose a development like this."

The state's tax credit program matches dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit, according to Nathan Mize, tax credit program manager with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Credit allocations are based on project proposals submitted by developers. A project's potential merits to a community are ranked on a point system and evaluated in accordance with an annual needs analysis.

Mr. Mize said projects are meant to fill gaps in communities, not to be competition for existing properties.

Management at Shenadoah Ridge Apartments expressed concerns of unfair competition when they learned Wedgewood Park would be located less than a mile away. These days, they refer people to Wedgewood Park, and vice versa.

"Most of our prospects don't qualify there," said Michelle Coleman, support manager at Shenadoah Ridge.

Boston Capital Corp. and Midland Mortgage Investment Corp. backed Norsouth in its project proposal for Wedgewood Park. Now that the project is complete and has proven viable, Fannie Mae has stepped in and purchased the loan. Fannie Mae is the largest source of financing for multi-family housing.

Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.