Members of Liberty County’s housing-initiative team attended the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing retreat, held Sept. 22-24 at the University of Georgia Tifton Campus Conference Center.
The Liberty County housing initiative grew out of the 2014 Countywide Planning Workshop in response to concerns about declining neighborhoods in rural areas and its cities, according to Jeff Ricketson, executive director of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission.
“The Georgia Initiative for Community Housing is a three-year program that helps communities develop strategies for revitalizing their housing options,” said Melissa Jones, a planner at the LCPC and the local team leader.
“Typically, individual municipalities or county governments apply to the program,” Jones continued, “but the leaders in our county expressed a desire to apply collectively, as one community. Liberty County is the first county to apply for the GICH designation countywide.”
Representatives from various agencies and subject-matter experts from across the state delivered presentations at the retreat. Topics included best practices in code enforcement, implementation of state-funded grants such as the Community Development Block Grant and downtown housing.
The retreat also offered facilitated workshops for communities to develop local goals and work plans. Liberty County’s team established four goals it would like to accomplish through participation in the GICH: provide affordable housing based on diverse needs, eliminate slum and blight, educate local governments and the community on housing issues and maximize opportunities to leverage housing development.
Communities interested in participating in the GICH must apply through the University of Georgia’s Housing and Demographic Research Center. Once selected, the community assembles a housing team that participates in workshops, tours of other communities with successful housing activities, local housing assessments and two annual retreats.
Each retreat is held in a different Georgia city, usually one that has already participated in the GICH. The first retreat of 2015 was held Feb. 23-25 in Macon.
Liberty County’s GICH team includes three mayors, three city-council members, one county commissioner and various other representatives from the county and its seven municipalities.
The GICH was created in 2005 through a collaboration of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the Georgia Municipal Association, the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the university’s Public Service and Outreach Department.