Warner Robins gets cash to fight blight

WARNER ROBINS — The city has received a financial boost in its fight against blight.

Warner Robins partnered with Houston County to receive $622,359 in Neighborhood Stabilization Program money to acquire and demolish properties along Ignico and Tabor drives. The money comes from a pool of $77.1 million the state’s Department of Community Affairs received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Glenn Misner, field services director for DCA’s community and finance division, said communities and regions are ranked based on need.

Warner Robins and the more than 20 other Georgia cities selected for direct allocation showed a need of at least $500,000.

“For those counties that don’t have that much need, we’re not going to get much bang for our buck,” Misner said.

Gary Lee, executive director for the city’s redevelopment agency, said Warner Robins partnered with Houston County to seek the grant because part of the grant criteria revolved around home-foreclosure rates. According to the proposal, the targeted area has the highest foreclosure rates in Houston County. Foreclosure rates in that area are between 7 percent and 11 percent.

“Warner Robins is not in dire straits, and we’re just trying to grow,” Lee said.

The effort targets vacant apartment complexes on the north side of town. The city plans to use $152,510 to purchase and clear a property at 214 Tabor Drive with the intention of creating single-family homes for people who earn 50 percent or less of the median income in the city’s redevelopment area. Those figures were unavailable late last week.

The remainder of the funding would go toward buying and clearing properties at 117, 119 and 127 Ignico Drive as well as structures at 216 and 218 Tabor Drive. Single-family households built to replace those buildings will be targeted for people who earn 120 percent of the area median income. The project is expected to start in June and end in June 2010.

Misner said each community that received the award has until September 2010 to obligate all its funds. If, after what Misner said will be a lot of monitoring, a community is not found to be progressing on its project, Misner said the community’s funds will be put back into the pot and reallocated to some of the other communities.

Lee said Warner Robins should not have that problem as the project could be started almost immediately. Once Warner Robins has completed the acquisition and clearing of property, Lee said he plans to work with developers and seek other funding sources to redevelop the area that he says has “a bad rap.”

Maj. John Wagner of the Warner Robins Police Department said the area suffers from “broken-window theory”: The rundown appearance of the structures leads to higher crime. Copper has been stolen from the buildings. Doors have been broken. Drug users are caught smoking illegal substances. The sites serve as “dens of prostitution,” Wagner said.

But Wagner said the area doesn’t have to stay that way and the grant is a step in the right direction.

“Once you build the area up there, people will have pride in what they have,” Wagner said.

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.