Plans nearing for funds to boost neighborhoods

By the end of this month, Augusta housing officials hope to know specifically where more than $2.4 million will be spent to revamp city neighborhoods. The money would be invested across Richmond County, repairing neighborhoods, increasing property values and creating jobs.

In the weeks ahead, the Augusta Housing and Community Development Department will purchase foreclosed and abandoned properties for new construction and rehabilitation, said Director Chester Wheeler.

"We will look to rehab homes, build rental property and create other new construction," he said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved grant monies for more than $48 million for six Georgia communities -- Atlanta, Augusta, DeKalb County, Clayton County, Columbus and Savannah -- through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, created under the Housing and Recovery Act of 2008. The program seeks to stabilize communities affected by the foreclosure crisis by acquiring and redeveloping abandoned properties. Abandoned foreclosed homes can become a neighborhood eyesore and decrease property value, Mr. Wheeler said.

HUD officials identified five ZIP codes -- 30901, 30906, 30904, 30909 and 30815 -- that have the highest rate of foreclosure in Augusta, Mr. Wheeler said. The properties will be selected from those areas.

Once HUD gives the city environmental clearance to begin work on the homes, the housing department will select the homes, said Sean Edwards, the Housing and Recovery Act manager. The city expects to have that clearance by the end of the month.

Beyond cleaning up the neighborhood, purchasing the homes will create jobs in real estate, construction, marketing and other careers related to the housing industry.

"High foreclosure rates can be the blight of the community; these funds will help turn that around," Mr. Edwards said.

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

COMMUNITIES GIVEN FEDERAL FUNDING

- DeKalb County: $18,545,013

- Atlanta: $12,316,082

- Clayton County: $9,732,126

- Columbus-Muscogee County: $3,117,039

- Augusta-Richmond County: $2,473,064

- Savannah: $2,038,631

Total: $48,221,955

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development