Low-income homeowners given the chance to speak

There has been little change in the list of those who require affordable housing in the past year, according to the data collected by the Athens Housing Authority. Yet there are still plenty of families who are living in poverty and currently deprived the opportunity of homeownership.

The Athens Housing Authority has released its Five-Year and Annual Agency Plans for public review, and both contain goals to correct this situation.

The Athens Housing Authority will conduct a public hearing on March 23 at 4:15 p.m. with a board meeting to follow. The hearing is held to allow public comment on the Five-Year and Annual Agency Plans that will go into effect July 1, 2010. The meeting will take place at the Athens Housing Authority’s central offices on Rocksprings Street.

Public hearings are held once yearly, or more if the Annual Plans are amended during the year, according to Carol Kirchman, Executive Assistant for the Athens Housing Authority.

“Our Mission is to provide secure, affordable, quality housing and resources which encourage and sustain independence for wage earners, elderly and families,” Kirchman said.

Section 9.0 of the Five-Year plan details the housing needs of these demographics in specifically the low, very low, and extremely low income groups.

There are 5,700 families in Athens-Clarke County have an income 30 percent less than the median, according to data from the 2010 Annual Action Plan of the Consolidated Plan of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County. Many of the Athens Housing Authorities customers fall into this category.

The information in Section 9.0 states that 80 percent of the approximately 553 families on the waiting list for the Athens Housing Authority are below 30 percent of the median income.

The reports states that for a community where rents are largely affected by students at the University of Georgia, rents in the private market remain to a great extent “unaffordable” to this population.

This makes providing housing to the low-income population a consistent problem, and makes it necessary for the Athens Housing Authority to focus many of their programs on this need.

Section 9.1 of the Five-Year Plan describes the strategies for addressing these housing needs including, issuing Mortgage Revenue Bonds, continuing the ACT I Home program, and maintaining strong partnerships with local government, other agencies, and private industry.

The ACT I Home program strives to provide affordable home ownership opportunities.

The Athens Housing Authority newsletter, the Resident Report, outlines the requirements to qualify for an ACT I Home. Families must be at or less than 80 percent of the median income for Athens Clarke County, but a minimum of $20,000. An ACT I Home resident must also attend housing counseling, have a credit score of 600 or more, have a minimum of $1,000 for down payment funds, and be able to obtain a mortgage.

There are packets of information regarding the ACT I Home program available at the Athens Housing Authority offices, but all had been given out as of Wednesday. This could be an indication of the program’s popularity.

So far, the ACT I Homes program has put 19 families in affordable housing located in the downtown area, according to the Resident Report. Each house is two or three bedrooms, contains Energy Star appliances to reduce utility bills and is made of low maintenance materials.

Programs such as ACT I Home are important, as Section 9.0 of the Five-Year Plan anticipates that a continued depressed economy will affect jobs in Athens. Many jobs have remained untouched up until now, as Athens jobs are largely tied to stable government positions at the University of Georgia, local government, or hospitals.

For those interested in previewing the Five-Year and Annual Agency Plans before the meetings, copies are available at the Athens Housing Authority’s main office, Athens Regional Library, Jack R. Wells Boys and Girls Club, and Offices of East Athens Development Corporation.

Any interested party is welcome at the hearing, but in Kirchman’s experience, typically AHA residents and members of local agencies that partner with the Athens Housing Authority attend.

Despite the fact that the Five-Year and Annual Agency Plans directly outline policies and goals that will affect the community, historically few people have attended the public hearing, said Kirchman.

Though this is commonly the case, Athens Housing Authority residents are well represented.

“The Agency Plan is developed in conjunction with a Resident Advisory Board comprised of AHA residents. Therefore, AHA resident input was incorporated into the draft plan from the beginning,” Kirchman said.

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