Augusta Mayor Bob Young has a plan to keep crime down near downtown Augusta's low-cost housing unit Richmond Summit, and it involves an unlikely group - the elderly.
"We hope it will change it for the better," he said, noting that a recent agreement he pushed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will allow the housing complex on Broad Street to transform into a senior citizen community as opposed to one that now gets a majority of its tenants from those with mental handicaps.
The only problem is that the manager of Richmond Summit, Edie Downey, says such an effort was tried before and too few senior citizens wanted to move there.
"It's very hard to get elderly people around here," she said, noting that many senior citizens don't want to live at the Summit because the downtown area has little to offer to them.
Another problem is that several Richmond Summit residents are patients of Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia and receive community support services to help keep them out of the mental hospital and live more productive lives.
If they can't live there or in the Bon Air Apartments, there aren't many alternatives, said Phil Horton, acting executive director of the center.
"I don't think there's any real choices at this point," he said.
The center would like to get federal housing money to acquire apartments for those patients and others who need transitional homes, as Union Mission has done in Savannah for the mentally ill and homeless, Dr. Horton said.
That would be a long-term solution, he said.
"Short term, there's nothing," Dr. Horton said. "There's places like Salvation Army and Augusta Rescue Mission, but housing is really at a premium here."
Sixty percent of residents at Richmond Summit have some sort of mental handicap, and the remaining 40 percent are elderly, Mr. Young said. A move to change that percentage is being hailed by police, who say an all-elderly community at Richmond Summit would go a long way toward curbing crime in the area.
"Things would be a whole lot better if only the elderly would be allowed there," said Sgt. Scott Gay, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. "I don't think you're going to see an 80-year-old man trying to hustle some cocaine."
Recently, Sgt. Gay said police have stepped up their efforts at the Summit in light of increased calls concerning car break-ins along Broad Street and other crimes. Overall, though, he said the problem of crime in the area has gone down with police action and the help of Summit management.
But "if we're not persistently down there, it tends to build back up very quickly," he said.
The move to make Richmond Summit an elderly community comes as Ambling Management of Valdosta, Ga., plans to buy the housing complex in about a month and conduct $2 million in improvements. The company also purchased Bon Air Apartments on Walton Way and is planning about $5 million in improvements in the next six weeks, manager David Gates said.
Calls to Ambling Management were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Mr. Gates said that, to his knowledge, Bon Air plans to still accept applications from those with mental handicaps, but the wait for an apartment there is about six months.
Mr. Young said the effort to make Richmond Summit an elderly community would be done through attrition of those with handicaps. Ms. Downey said residents at Richmond Summit can be evicted only if they don't pay their rent or are found to be doing drugs or committing other crimes. She said she has stepped up efforts to conduct background checks of tenants and applicants.
"I have no reason to evict anybody or tell them to move because some elderly person is standing out there wanting to move in," she said.
Staff Writer Tom Corwin contributed to this article.
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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