Fort Hill neighborhood gets 2 new developments

pramati@macon.comAugust 28, 2013 

Two new developments in the Fort Hill community will provide affordable housing to people formerly homeless or who have been dealing with mental illness issues.

At a ceremony Wednesday afternoon, city officials and those with River Edge Behavioral Health Center cut ribbons for Second Neighborhood and Third Neighborhood, which are providing a total of 20 new residential units in an area previously overrun with blight.

Shannon Harvey, River Edge’s CEO, said the new housing fits in with the center’s overall mission to improve the quality of life for its clients and the city in general.

“Our mission is to make life better, and today that’s what we’re doing,” said Harvey, who said the center’s next neighborhood revitalization project will be in Milledgeville.

The two housing developments follow the success of First Neighborhood, located in the same part of Fort Hill, off Emery Highway in east Macon. It opened in October 2010.

All three neighborhoods cost $4.9 million in revitalization over a three-year period, leading to 38 new units of affordable housing.

Mayor Robert Reichert said the redevelopment benefits everyone in the community. He credited Macon Economic and Community Development Director Wanzina Jackson in helping make it happen, calling it a “win-win situation” for everyone.

“What an unbelievable difference it has made,” he said. “Don’t tell me this won’t attract more residents and get rid of blight. It will help promote the development of the neighborhood.”

Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, whose district includes the Fort Hill area, concurred.

“I think it’s an exciting example of what can happen in a blighted neighborhood, when you have the vision and willingness to cooperate with each other,” he said. “I hope it inspires many, many more efforts. Instead of getting rid of one blighted house, you’re tackling a whole neighborhood.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided $1.1 million in a Section 811 Capital Advancement Grant to build the homes in Second Neighborhood. Harvey said that project came in on time and about $41,000 under budget. Joseph Phillips, a spokesman for HUD’s field office in Atlanta, said he hopes other communities will follow Macon’s example of providing affordable housing while reclaiming blighted neighborhoods.

“We’ve had other success stories, but I don’t think there have been any as focused as this one,” he said. “I think this could be a model for other communities to look at. Instead of a blighted neighborhood, you have three new neighborhoods with new construction. It brings hope to the folks needing hope.”

Harvey said all of the units -- consisting of one- and two-bedroom apartments -- already have been rented out. Second Neighborhood is focused on people with disabilities, while Third Neighborhood is for people who were formerly homeless or had mental illnesses.

Dolores Jackson, 57, moved into her Third Neighborhood unit about a month ago. She said she had previously been homeless and was a former River Edge client.

“I thank God for River Edge,” she said. “(My former apartment) was in a bad neighborhood. I had health issues. Now, it’s just peaceful. ... It’s beautiful and affordable. I can just sit out on my porch. ... I think this will be the place I live at until I die.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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