The Hinesville Housing Authority manages 205 housing units but has no vacancies for 203 families on a waiting list that averages one to three years, according to Executive Director Debra Williams. Williams presented an annual update on the housing authority to the city council at its April 4 meeting.
“The housing authority is a separate authority,” Mayor Jim Thomas said. “They don’t report to the city but do provide us with an annual report.”
During her report, Williams said only 116 of the 203 applicants are eligible for public housing. Councilman David Anderson asked why so many applicants were ruled ineligible. She said that in most cases, the applications simply are missing some information and their applications are on hold pending submission of all required information.
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier asked about the average rent paid by families in public housing.
“Rent is based totally on family income,” Williams said. “That’s the law.”
She said the housing authority manages 77 housing units and a multi-family complex called Regency that includes an additional 128 units. The authority’s website notes that the public-housing program began in 1937. Hinesville’s housing authority was commissioned in 1959. It receives no city, county or state operating funds.
Thomas explained that many of the families determined to be eligible for public housing and placed on the waiting list still are living in the same apartment or trailer they were living in when they applied for public housing. When rental costs become unaffordable and families become homeless, he said the city’s Homeless Prevention Program office works with community churches and organizations like the Liberty County Homeless Coalition to find temporary shelter for these families.
“That’s why we formed the Homeless Coalition,” Thomas said. “We knew there was a homeless problem. When I first came into this office (however), they told me there wasn’t a homeless problem in Hinesville. Since then, the number of homeless has increased.”
Thomas said the increase in homeless individuals and families partly is due to Hinesville having developed a reputation as a place where the homeless can get help. He said he wishes there was some other way to raise funds to help the homeless beyond government grants and money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to subsidize public housing.
Williams noted in her report that due to federal budget cuts, the housing authority didn’t receive any funds from HUD in 2012. Nonetheless, last year the authority was able to renovate 19 units, an office and a maintenance shop. It also upgraded 75 percent of public-housing units with high-volume air conditioning and prepared to convert 40 units to total electric. She explained having only one utility made it easier for residents who otherwise would have to pay security deposits for water, gas and electricity.
The authority also bought two properties last year. One property is a single-family dwelling; the other is a vacant lot. Williams said the authority plans to develop the home for public housing and will apply for a grant to build a multi-family complex on the lot.
Williams concluded her report by introducing a group of students called “Swag on the Right Path.” The students, supervisor Andrea Boyd and Williams posed for photos with the mayor and city council members. Councilman Keith Jenkins asked some the students to talk about their group, and the mayor invited them back for a tour of city hall.
“Swag is designed to help low income kids, ages 13-17,” Thomas said. “In addition to recreational activities sponsored by the housing authority, they learn life skills like balancing a checkbook, writing a resume and dressing for a job interview.”
One young man told Jenkins he liked being part of Swag because it’s helping him reach his goal of attending college. In his experience, Thomas said, the community has to start working with low-income kids by the sixth grade to help them reach a college goal.