UPDATE: Macon, Bibb officials try to assuage residents’ fears on funds to fight foreclosures

A news conference today to announce that federal money will be sent to Macon and Bibb County to combat fallout from home foreclosures turned into an impromptu public hearing when Lake Wildwood residents showed up with questions about the program.

Residents of the neighborhood, about 30 of whom came to listen to city and county officials discuss the $4 million they expect to receive through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, are concerned that money will be used to help people buy homes there they otherwise could not afford. That in turn could exacerbate problems already created by the foreclosure crisis, they say.

“While this may be a temporary fix, it will multiply the problem down the road,” said Stuart Griffin, an officer with Lake Wildwood’s homeowner association.

But city and county officials sought to assuage residents’ fears, and said plans for spending the money are only in their infancy. Nothing is locked in yet, they said, and there will be two public hearings available for all Bibb County residents to provide input and feedback on how the money should be allocated.

The first is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Dec. 19 on the third floor of the Terminal Station in downtown Macon, where the city’s Economic and Community Development Department is located. At that point, said department director Kevin Dubose, officials hope to have an eight- to 12-page outline for spending the money.

“I think between all of us we can come up with a scenario that can help,” he said. The funds are intended to be spent on property acquisition, rehabilitation, land-banking, demolition and redevelopment.

As a starting point, officials are proposing to use the money primarily in two manners:

— Within the city, they suggest spending $2.5 million in areas with the highest rate of foreclosures and abandoned homes, including Pleasant Hill, south Macon, east Macon and portions of Tindall Heights and Montpelier Heights. The city likely will partner with the Macon Housing Authority on a low-income tax development as well.

— In the unincorporated county, where Lake Wildwood is located, officials suggest funding a countywide downpayment assistance program that would target bank-owned properties in the areas of highest need. Buyers would need to have incomes below 120 percent of the median income for Bibb County. While no subdivision or geographic area would be specifically targeted, there may be greater marketing efforts that take place in areas with high numbers of bank-owned properties.

“This is not bailout money,” Dubose said. “This is money for community development ... to deal with blighting influences, to deal with vacant homes and to deal with the results of high-cost loans.”

In Lake Wildwood, a neighborhood within an area of the county that has seen higher foreclosure rates than others, residents will meet again Thursday to decide how they want to respond to officials’ plans for spending the funds.

A lot of questions remain unanswered, said resident Norman Brown.

“My primary concern is that we get a seat at the table with the money on it so that we can be involved in the process,” he said.