The Hinesville Housing Authority CEO Melanie Thompson gave a bi-annual update on the HHA’s activities on Jan. 3 at the regular city council meeting, and sat down with the Courier to talk about the housing authority.
The HHA updated their mission and vision to accurately reflect the organization, Thompson said. The mission is to provide safe and affordable market and subsidized housing options that improve the quality of life for all residents of Liberty County, she said.
“The vision is to be a convener of housing solutions in the southeast Georgia region,” Thompson said. “We have new logos and two non-profits, and the colors distinguish each entity. We have Hineshouse Property Management and Maintenance Services, we have Hineshouse Development, which is a non-profit entity, and of course, we have the Hinesville Housing Authority.”
The HHA maintains a staff of 15 members and a board of seven members, Thompson continued. In 2018, HHA served 596 residents and established over 20 partnerships in the local area. They partner with local churches, fraternities, food pantries, engineering firms and others in the local community, but strictly on an “as-needed” basis, Thompson said. Because of the cost savings plan HHA has in place, they tend to use other organizations periodically versus daily.
“We have 211 units, and four vacant units that have pending move-ins,” she added. “When the report was done, our waiting list was 1,070, but now, as of Jan. 3, the wait list is 1,091 individuals that have applied for housing.” However, as of Jan. 17, the list has grown by another 30 applicants, pushing the total to 1,121, Thompson told the Courier in a recent interview.
According to data from HHA, Hinesville poses the most need for affordable and subsidized housing, as compared to other surrounding areas like Midway, Fort Stewart, and Ludowici. People gravitate towards the agency or company that provides the service or product they need, she said. The graph showed the number of applicants on the wait list, and their locations in and around Hinesville. The area suffers from a growing need for affordable housing due to the military and the cost of living.
“You have more people in Hinesville that are low to moderate [incomes],” Thompson said. “The fair market rate for an apartment here with no subsidy is unattainable for that particular family. For an average person that doesn’t have any military ties, and are working for between $8-12, it’s just not attainable. That’s the need for affordable housing.” Between the soldiers and Fort Stewart, the housing market is incredibly steep, Thompson said. The allowances for housing received by military members skews affordability for housing in Hinesville, and drives up the baseline market price on everything.
“There are E-1s and E-2s that use HHA housing,” Thompson said. “They make a little too much for affordable housing, but between the tax subsidy housing and the allowances allow them to live on those properties.”
To develop their strategic plan, Thompson said, the board focused on creating themes to help the HHA remain focused on their mission.
Theme one focused on the education, training and resident services development, Thompson said. The HHA purchased Hinesville building codes for the maintenance department and maintenance policy to ensure the organization and its subsidiaries are in compliance with city codes. This allows them to review city codes to ensure their practices are in tune with the rest of the city development. Properties are an asset—so HHA wanted to be experts, and recognize the seriousness of maintaining properties. As they move forward with development, they want to be compliant with the city.
HHA board members also attended the Southern Affordable Housing Management training and Fair Housing training, among others, she continued.
“We completed a child safety plan, and we also hosted a board retreat that focused on community housing development,” Thompson said.
Theme three addressed the partnership development, public relations and marketing aspect of running the three separate entities, Thompson continued. They developed communication plans and systems, as well as created a new website and social media to enhance the communication and functionality of online services, Thompson said.
“We updated our website, and we use social media, to always engage the public and keep people informed about what we have done,” she said. “We also developed a community wellness center that’s modeled after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s EnVision Center.” The QUAD E Community Wellness Center is located at 301 Olive Street in Hinesville.
For their real estate project development and expansion, HHA focused on creating the Liberty County Community Housing Development Organization. The board also devised an HHA, HPMMS, and HHD Real Estate Development Team that will develop proposed projects, and actively work to decrease HHA waiting lists, Thompson said.
Currently, the HHA is the only housing authority in the area. That was one of the main reasons that the LCCHDO was founded—to provide everybody access to affordable housing, and provide an agency that will advocate on the community members’ behalf.
“We are also engaging other municipalities to address the needs of the people and housing,” she added. The LCCHDO gathers together those incorporated and unincorporated areas within Liberty County, without representation of a housing authority, and gives them an outlet to express and communicate with others. The HHA will work with the LCCHDO until it can stand alone as a non-profit that represents those outlying areas, Thompson added.
Ongoing projects that the HHA is currently developing and working on include a senior housing development, and a mixed housing development. HHA is currently in talks with a developer that will help the organization redevelop the Cedar Walk area, with a possibility of up to a 300 unit increase in affordable housing, Thompson said.
“It will be a mixed income area,” she said. “You could have our vouchers, you could have tax credit that would be aid that helps with rent, and then, there will be some market units. This property is going to address all the needs.”
The property is currently being laid out by developers, so the number of market, tax subsidy, and affordable housing units are unknown at this time.
“I really want to take the city, and the community on a journey,” she said. “Of us, really, strategically helping solve or address the housing issues. This project is going to be a story on how you can accommodate special populations of people. In this development, we’ll have housing for veterans, seniors… this property will just be a cocktail of demographics.”
Thompson continued, saying that the HHA purchased the Darsey Road property on Highway 84 East for construction of a senior living complex called Liberty Landings on Darsey Road that will serve those ages 65 and older. The property will house 20 market units, and rent includes both utilities and high-speed internet services, Thompson said.
The Liberty Landings on Darsey Road property is currently in the regulation and coding stage—meaning the state regulators are working to ensure compliance. All required regulations are being addressed, Thompson said. For years, the HHA focused on no-income and low-income, and the property is addressing a completely different population.
The HHA endeavors to address all housing solutions, including homeownership, Thompson continued. Currently, there are multiple families paying market rent for the units. The goal, she said, is to help transition them into homes that are comparable to the price they are paying now, but are reachable, obtainable and manageable.
“Those are all variables we consider when we look at development deals, or homeownership,” Thompson said. “We want it to really put a dent in the numbers by addressing rentals and adding units.”
Safety, property management
The last of the 2018 HHA updates included safety, facility and property management. HHA reevaluated all signage on HHA and client properties and replaced the outdated signs, Thompson said. The board also evaluated all security camera locations on HHA and client properties to ensure there were no obstructions that could block crucial video recordings, she continued.
“We remodeled the Regency Park Administration Building and added a tool room to the maintenance facility,” Thompson said. “We installed gating and fencing at Regency Place as well as maglocks for the administration buildings.”
Upcoming projects include: a submission of a 4 or 9 percent tax credit application to DCA by May 2019, in addition to evaluating other creative financing to bridge the financial gap for the Cedar Walk development project. HHA will begin pre-leasing of Darsey Road senior living homes; continue building and creating partnerships and community involvement; partner and support the LCCHDO; and cultivate a strong relationship with the City of Hinesville to advance and increase the affordable housing and single-family home ownership initatives, Thompson concluded.
“This is a very, very stressful, challenging, but rewarding industry,” Thompson said. “Our reputation and relevance in the community is now being recognized and respected. We are living our purpose, and our vision is becoming a reality. It’s a testimony to the staff and our leadership that this has happened.”