Macon City Council OKs housing grant application

On its second try, Macon City Council voted Tuesday to seek a $1.5 million grant for housing development.

But the waters were muddied soon after the authorizing resolution was changed so that it now differs from one approved by Bibb County, the city’s prospective partner in the grant application. Council members added a clause stating that they and the mayor shall retain oversight and authority to approve all loans made from the revolving loan fund that the grant would create.

Officials must turn in their application by Friday to the state, which is distributing the federal money. Kari Kitchens, Bibb’s grants administrator, said the commission will have to ratify the city’s changes at its meeting next week. But she said Chairman Sam Hart still has the authority to sign the paperwork this week. She was optimistic that the disconnect between the city and county resolutions would not harm the application.

“But then again, I don’t know,” she said.

Bibb Commissioner Joe Allen was upset with the outcome. After hearing afterward about the changes made during the meeting, he called The Telegraph to voice his discontent.

“That’s not right,” he said. “We’ve already voted on it. ... What they’re doing is wrong. I’m totally disgusted with the city.”

More than 40 people supporting the grant watched from the audience. Mayor Robert Reichert also spoke briefly, urging the council to approve the resolution.

“I hope everybody is convinced this is a good project, a good thing to do, a good initiative to undertake,” he said. “Let’s turn the page — fresh sheet, fresh start.”

The council was revoting on the matter Tuesday because last week, five members — James Timley, Mike Cranford and Ed DeFore of Ward II, plus Elaine Lucas and Lonnie Miley — blocked the grant application by voting against it. Three council members — Lauren Benedict, Erick Erickson and Charles Jones — were absent from that first vote, leaving only seven to support it. Eight votes are needed for the council to take action.

A chief complaint for opponents was that the grant, made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to communities that were declared federal disaster areas last year, would jump-start a fund whose first project was likely to be the renovation of Atlantic Cotton Mills. North Carolina developer The Landmark Group wants to turn the mill, located behind the Pio Nono Avenue Kroger, into loft apartments.

Ward II council members in particular had thought that any kind of disaster grant funding should instead go to Village Green, a blighted, crime-ridden residential area in their community. But administration officials had said there was nothing in Village Green that currently qualifies for the money.

This time, everyone who initially voted against the grant changed their mind and voted for it, except for Timley. Benedict, Erickson and Jones also were present and voted for it. The final count was 12-1. Council members Nancy White and Tom Ellington were absent.

But approval was not provided until after Cranford spent several minutes outlining his additional concerns: Supporting documentation and rules for the grant were not made available to the council ahead of time, the money should be targeted toward low and moderate income residents, the rules indicate it could be used instead to assist businesses, install infrastructure and expand homeownership, and the city was taking responsibility for the money even though it did not have control over it.

The grant would be applied for and administered by the Middle Georgia Regional Commission on behalf of the city and county, and managed day-to-day by the Urban Development Authority.

“The poor people who need this money are not going to get it unless we retain oversight,” Cranford told his colleagues, before offering the amended version of the resolution that was ultimately passed.

Council President Miriam Paris voted against the change. She said she was displeased with the council’s inability “to accomplish a simple task.”

“All of the specifics were not given to the commissioners, who passed their resolution,” she said after the meeting. “And if they were able to pass it without all those specifics, and I think they are five very competent men, we certainly (should be) able to pass the resolution for the application of the grant. The specifics come after the application.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.