WARNER ROBINS -- Growth on the Warner Robins north side tends to refer to overgrown greenery weaving in and around the houses that once served as the citys roots.
The Warner Robins Housing Authority is attempting to revitalize the area through the demolition of an old public housing community and a redevelopment tool that has become popular nationwide in the wake of a depressed housing market -- a land bank.
We want (visitors) to see Warner Robins as a beautiful town, said Sheryl Frazier, executive director of the Warner Robins Housing Authority.
Community-focused face lift
Frazier said the authority has been working to establish a land bank to redevelop vacant and abandoned properties into structures that would promote a healthy community.
Vacant buildings cause people to start drug houses, Frazier said. It puts pressure on the fire department because thats where most of the fires are started -- in vacant buildings.
A land bank would allow a corresponding authority to purchase vacant property and resell it to organizations or individuals whose goal is revitalizing the area.
The idea is part of discussions for a new city housing plan, a strategy being developed through a Georgia Initiative for Community Housing grant. The grant provides three years of training and assistance for a community team -- made up of the housing authority, community organizations and government representatives -- to establish a viable housing plan.
Boundaries of the land bank have not been determined, Frazier said.
It has been proven successful in so many other cities, as close as Macon, Frazier said.
Land banks arent a new concept but have become a common tool in rebuilding now-vacant neighborhoods nationwide.
A lot of communities are reaching out for ways to deal with the increase in abandoned properties as a result of the recession and the mortgage crisis as a whole, said Amy Hovey, interim president and chief executive officer of the Center for Community Progress.
The center, which has offices in Washington, D.C.; Flint, Mich.; and New Orleans, was established in 2010 to train community leaders on land banks and other ways to remove blighted property from the tax roll.
Hovey said more than 80 communities nationwide have land banks. That number would have been just a handful 10 years ago, she said.
Most land banks are in Michigan, though they are also prevalent in Ohio, New York and now in Georgia, where the legislature updated regulations this year, Hovey said.
Frazier said the ultimate goal would be to turn an eyesore into a tax revenue-generating property, whether a land bank partner built new structures or the housing authority repurposed it for public housing.
The housing authority pays taxes, just in a different form called a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), Frazier said. Some people think we dont pay taxes, but we do.
Hovey said the land bank presents a viable solution to aging areas of Warner Robins. The strategy also gives additional control to the city over what replaces the blighted property.
Land banks are a great tool to make sure theyre redeveloping in a way that is consistent with the vision for the community, Hovey said.
A lot of authorities work with community organizations, as Frazier said Warner Robins intends to do, Hovey said. Frazier said Habitat for Humanity has agreed to partner with the land bank.
They usually share the same goals for the community, Hovey said of community organizations.
The biggest challenge of a land bank, Hovey said, is ensuring the authority has enough money to maintain acquired property that hasnt been turned over to a new owner. The most common reason land banks fail, she said, is lack of leadership.
Training for the Warner Robins land bank will begin Thursday at the International City Golf Course, where about 30 people from the city, county and community organizations will learn the basics, Frazier said.
Frazier said the land bank could work in Warner Robins and would ensure the oldest area of town isnt evident when visitors enter the city via North Davis Drive.
We want the same for everybody, not just the people on the other sides of town, Frazier said.
First to go
The demolition of the Oscar Thomie Homes public housing community could be one of the first projects under the land bank, Frazier said.
The housing authority is waiting for an environmental review from the city to send with its application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish more than 70 units.
Frazier said the application should be sent within the next two weeks, and she expects HUD to approve the application within three to six months.
It would be the first demolition of a Warner Robins public housing community. The city would then have seven such communities.
Frazier said the Oscar Thomie community was built in 1964 and hasnt been updated since. There were plans in 2007 for renovations and in 2010 for central air conditioning.
Its never happened, Frazier said.
The units have outdated kitchens and bathrooms, peeling paint, molding tiles and possibly hazardous old heating systems, Frazier said.
I really dont know what we can do to turn this around, she said.
In 2009, the authority conducted a physical needs assessment to determine how much necessary renovations of the community would cost.
The assessment found the renovations would cost $11 million, Frazier said. A demolition would cost about $500,000, she said.
Frazier said only about 20 of the units have occupants. Most, about 50, units have boarded windows and doors.
Were moving people out of there and relocating them to other housing units as they become available, Frazier said.
Once demolished, Frazier said the land would be left for future purposes -- possibly under the land bank -- and public housing units would be placed in existing apartment complexes or homes around the city.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.