ATHENS, Ga. -- Paying only $385 in rent, Gloria Garcia knows the one-bedroom apartment that she and her husband, two daughters and son share is small but it's affordable and near schools, the hospital and grocery stores.
Her worry is that the building's owner will eventually sell the complex to developers who will tear down their home for an office building or a more expensive residential project. She says it has happened to them before.
More than one-fifth of Athens' families live in poverty, including Garcia's family, while more than one-fourth of Athens' families with children under age 5 fall below the poverty line. Statewide, those numbers were 13.9 percent and 16.8 percent, respectively.
Living in poverty means earning less than $8,980 a year for one person, $12,120 for two people or $15,260 for three people.
Garcia came to the United States from Mexico 11 years ago. Her husband, Josue, was already working in Athens. Their apartment complex was torn down four years later to make room for development but the landlord offered them a place at another complex.
A local not-for-profit group is trying to save affordable housing for families like the Garcias.
The People of Hope project is an effort to build a trailer park for those displaced when an Athens trailer park closed to make room for apartments for University of Georgia students. If the project is a success, its partnering organization, the Georgia Community Loan Fund, plans to develop similar projects.
The Athens-Clarke Human and Economic Development Department awarded the People of Hope project $175,000 last year to buy land. Citizens and churches donated $350,000 for development. But project coordinators say they need more funds.
"It will work," said People of Hope coordinator Maureen O'Brien, "but Athens-Clarke County needs to step up and find other options. There should be a few more options."
But residents like Garcia say living in a trailer park away from the city center means she'll have to pay for a taxi to take her children to the doctor, for example, and the fares are too high.
Garcia is preparing for the possibility of being displayed. The family has been looking for apartments but the cheapest place they've found is $650 a month.
If they can't find an affordable apartment, Garcia said they may consider public housing.
The Athens Housing Authority operates 1,200 apartments, and there's a waiting list of two or three months for some apartments.
AHA Director Rick Parker said he is pleased with the work to broaden Athens' housing market. The authority has hired a consultant to study the market and its needs.
"I think we are making strides," Parker said. "We are struggling to understand and define the problem and to develop strategies that the community is comfortable with."
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