Federal money headed to Macon to counter blight

Federal stimulus programs are pouring millions of federal tax dollars into housing improvements in the Macon area.

Just this week, officials announced an $8.5 million grant to redo Felton Homes, one of the city’s oldest public housing complexes. And in the coming weeks, the Macon City Council is expected to award several smaller contracts totaling millions more in grants meant to fight foreclosure and blight in housing trouble spots.

That round of funding includes about $4.1 million in housing money, plus another $541,000 to fight homelessness. A big chunk of the housing money will be used to demolish Macon Homes, where the Macon Housing Authority and its partners hope to leverage other money to build new homes to replace the decrepit former apartment complex in the Bartlett Crossing area, said John Hiscox, the authority’s executive director.

Demolition should start next month, Hiscox said. Now attention is turning to other housing projects, and the council’s Community Resources and Development Committee is scheduled to look at contracts with several other partners next month, including:

— Up to $954,000 for Habitat for Humanity, which would build or redevelop 15 homes. At least some of them would be in the Lynmore Estates area of south Macon, which Habitat has focused on in recent years and where the housing authority plans to demolish several problem houses.

— $901,500 for the authority, which will use some of the cash to demolish 21 units, including many in Lynmore Estates, said Cass Hatcher, a redevelopment director for the authority. The other six are in the Tindall Heights area near Mercer University. The authority also plans to build six new homes on its own, using $600,000 of the money for that.

— $458,069 for the Macon Bibb County Land Bank Authority, which is a clearing house of sorts for problem buildings in Bibb County. The authority will use about $262,500 to buy properties and another $111,500 to maintain and hold them. That second pool of money is needed to handle closing costs, pay to cut the grass at properties, clear out illegally dumped trash and handle other general maintenance, land bank authority Executive Director Alison Souther said.

Because the titles the authority deals with typically have problems, the group often encounters “crazy glitches” as it acquires property, Souther said. About $84,000 of the authority’s funded is earmarked for various administrative costs, and Souther said she probably will use some of the money to hire a new person to work on the program.

In addition to that funding, which comes from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the city will be doling out money to fight homelessness through another stimulus program — the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program. These contracts are scheduled to be heard by a council committee Oct. 6:

— $124,000 for the Salvation Army to help people make rent payments and pay utility and other bills. The money is meant to help “individuals and families who are homeless or would be homeless but for this assistance,” according to grant documents.

— $227,000 for the Economic Opportunity Council, which would work with tenants and landlords to make payments similar to the Salvation Army’s program.

— $43,500 for Homefirst, which will provide financial and credit counseling to people who receive help.

— $142,000 for River Edge Behavioral Health Services, which will refer existing clients into the homeless prevention program, as well as provide mental health counseling.

Some of the homeless prevention money — about $174,000 of the $537,300 the city plans to send to various groups under these contracts — is earmarked for administrative costs.

Most of that will be used to build a database of people who receive services through the grant.

The database, called the Homeless Management Information System, will be statewide, said Wanzina Jackson, head of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, which is riding herd on the grants.

Some of the federal grant money will be kept by the city to cover administrative costs.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.