Macon affordable housing pioneer visits Tattnall Place
Drive around Macon awhile and there’s a good chance you’ll see a project that Bruce Gerwig spearheaded.
During a 30-year career, Gerwig worked mostly behind the scenes for the Macon Housing Authority as a key figure on numerous developments, becoming a pioneer of affordable housing in Macon — and beyond. He was able to develop relationships with investors, partners, agencies and others on projects that have rehabilitated neighborhoods, his former colleagues said.
Gerwig retired this month as president of In-Fill Housing Inc., the nonprofit arm of the housing authority, a role he took on in the late 1990s.
In all, Gerwig has been involved with the construction and rehabilitation of 17 developments, which had a total cost of about $170 million. Four of those were in other parts of Georgia — Fort Valley, Gordon, Forsyth and Blackshear — while the rest were in Bibb County.
Anything we’ve done here is part of a team of some very talented people — architects, engineers, consultants, lawyers, financial advisers. It takes the entire team to pull this together. ... Sometimes it feels like I’m the quarterback, sometimes like the water boy.
Bruce Gerwig, former president of In-Fill Housing
Each of the developments had a mountain of details that had to be followed seamlessly — and on a strict timeline, said John Hiscox, who worked with Gerwig for about 25 years before retiring as the housing authority’s executive director in 2012.
“Anyone can blow up the whole thing,” he said. “Bruce has a talent for detail and organizing each of those one million moving parts. He’s relentless in how he works on a project.”
In Macon’s Beall’s Hill community, Gerwig helped the housing authority draw a $19 million HOPE VI grant to replace the obsolete Oglethorpe Homes with Tattnall Place Apartments, a 97 unit, mixed-income development that opened in 2005.
A couple miles down the road off Napier Avenue sits the Bartlett Crossing subdivision, where new, single-family homes were built in place of the former Macon Homes. Another $13 million went toward the “green transformation” of the Felton Homes public housing development, near the Buck Melton Community Center on Sessions Drive.
Another project is the Pearl Stephens Village, where a 1920s-built elementary school has become income-based apartments for seniors.
Gerwig described the Pearl Stephens concept as the easiest to plan: the classrooms were the right size for a one-bedroom apartment. But the building, unused for so long that it had ferns growing inside, was in poor condition and needed more than elbow grease to get up to standards.
“Then you put it in the hands of smart architects and engineers who take the site plan and design something we think it could be,” Gerwig said. “Anything we’ve done here is part of a team of some very talented people — architects, engineers, consultants, lawyers, financial advisers, the housing authority.
“It takes the entire team to pull this together. I’ve been lucky to be a part of the team. Sometimes it feels like I’m the quarterback, sometimes like the water boy.”
A similar project to Pearl Stephens — the $11.9 million Hunt Senior Village — is now under construction off Shurling Drive. This year, demolition began on Tindall Heights, the public housing development off Little Richard Penniman Boulevard. Master plan calls for building Tindall Senior Towers and reducing the number of housing units from 412 to 270.
From West Virginia to Middle Georgia
Gerwig’s interest in Macon piqued about 30 years ago when he heard Hiscox speak at a conference on affordable housing. He was “blown away” at Hiscox’s speech, and after an introduction, he soon applied for a job with the Macon Housing Authority.
In August 1986, he moved to Middle Georgia from West Virginia, where he felt his professional opportunities were stagnant.
“He made it clear when I accepted the job I wasn’t his first choice,” Gerwig said. “Automatically I felt I had to come in and work that much harder to prove he made the right decision.”
Gerwig began his career with the authority as the director of the Section 8 housing voucher program. That role evolved into overseeing more experimental programs. He led initiatives such as Christmas in April (now Rebuilding Macon) that offered free home repairs for elderly and low-income residents, and another one that helped people become first-time homeowners. In the late 1990s that turned into becoming president of the newly created In-Fill Housing.
The housing authority decided to break away from the “public housing mold” that many other agencies followed and branch out instead into affordable housing by “emulating the best of what we saw among private developers,” Hiscox said.
Efforts turned toward using tax credits, awarded by state Department of Community Affairs through a competitive process.
“Some of the things Bruce was involved in was not just remarkable because of the project itself, but they were remarkable because we pioneered new and different ways to finance the development,” Hiscox said. “Felton Homes was one of first in the country that combined (Housing and Urban Development) grants with bond financing and tax credits.”
Developments involved forming a limited partnership with investors, who bought the credits in exchange for the equity needed to finance the project.
“The equity infusion dramatically decreases the amount of debt you need,” Gerwig said. “If you borrow less money because of less equity, then you have less money you have to repay. Therefore the rent can be lower.”
Gerwig has also shown a passion for caring about the people who live in the redevelopment communities, authority Executive Director June Parker said.
The authority has been successful in receiving tax credits each time it’s applied under Gerwig.
“It’s not just transforming the old homes. It’s transforming neighborhoods,” Parker said. “(Bruce) was able to see it’s not just housing we affect, it’s people’s lives.”
Taking over for Gerwig is Anthony Hayes, who has been involved with several tax credit applications over the past few years after joining with In-Fill.
Macon attorney Scott Spivey worked closely with Gerwig on many of the developments. Gerwig’s strong character stands out in the development world that can sometimes be tough to navigate, he said.
“The best thing I can say about Bruce is his integrity is unsurpassed,” Spivey said.