Project backers dispute stigma

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Augusta public housing officials have long tried to break free from the stigma that they are landlords to mostly criminals and drug addicts.

But the effort to discredit what they see as a myth has shifted into higher gear recently.

For the past month, officials have scheduled bus tours, made radio and television appearances and attended town hall meetings - all to head off fears that a mixed-income development off Deans Bridge Road will bring inner-city crime to south Augusta suburbs.

"We try to get the positive message out, but it's kind of hard to change people's stereotypes," said Jacob Oglesby, the executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority.

Residents near the proposed site aren't buying into all the publicity and say crime is inevitable once the partially subsidized project opens.

However, recent emergency-response data suggest that low-income doesn't necessarily translate to high crime.

In 2006, the number of police dispatches to apartment complexes that are required to rent to low- to moderate-income tenants was relatively normal and didn't indicate a high level of crime, said Catherine Walker, the assistant director of Augusta 911 Emergency Services.

In fact, some of the mixed-income apartment complexes appear to be low-crime areas.

According to a history of police dispatches compiled by Augusta 911 Emergency Services, police were not called to most of them very often, if at all.

For instance, deputies last year were not sent once to Stevens Creek Commons, a west Augusta apartment complex that received bond money from the housing authority in 2004.

Vida Nedd, 52, who lives there, said she enjoys the security of the neighborhood.

She said that its low crime numbers show that "working people" aren't necessarily bad people.

Other mixed-income communities backed by housing authority bonds, such as Sterling Ridge and Westbury Creek, also had low numbers.

But in places where the concentration of low-income tenants is greater, the number of police calls were more frequent.

In east Augusta, River Glen, which housing officials said is 100 percent low-income, had more than 600 police calls.

That's what Sammie Sias, the leader of the group opposing the Deans Bridge development, worries that it will turn into.

Mr. Sias, the president of the Richmond County Neighborhood Association Alliance, said he believes that mixed-income developments work, but he insists that Deans Bridge Road will not have the diversity of economic background housing officials are promising.

"We don't see that happening," he said.

Advocates of affordable housing recognize the concerns and distrust, but across the nation the new mixed-income model has proven viable, said Sunia Zaterman, the executive director of the Washington-based Council for Large Public Housing Authorities. In the end, it has done a lot to diminish stereotypes of public housing tenants, she said.

Ms. Zaterman said many communities fear that the apartment complex won't be run properly or won't screen residents appropriately, but "the reality on the ground proves that wrong," she said.

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or justin.boron@augustachronicle.com.

911 CALLS


Police calls to mixed-income apartment complexes in 2006:


Forest Brook Apartments: 44


Sterling Ridge Apartments: 11


Richmond Commons Apartments: 54


East Augusta Commons: 397


Westbury Creek: 18


Stevens Creek Commons: 0


Richmond Summit: 409*


Bon Air Apartments: 578*


River Glen Apartments: 613


*Emergency dispatchers say that these apartments are prone to several false alarms daily, which would make the number of calls they receive higher than other apartment complexes.

Source: Augusta 911 Emergency Services


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