Macon has millions for affordable housing development. A new nonprofit will decide how it’s spent.


Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting

A crew employed by Stafford Construction works on a new home on Ward Street in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood. Pleasant Hill is one of the places carved out for work by a new, federally funded affordable housing non-profit group of which Stafford Construction is a member.

Four neighborhoods in Macon are being targeted for affordable housing developments by a new nonprofit working with the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority.

South Macon east of Houston Avenue, Pleasant Hill, Tindall Fields and a pocket of East Macon beside the Ocmulgee Mounds are areas identified as targets by the Macon-Bibb County Affordable Housing Fund, or MBCAHF Inc., according to a resolution the Land Bank Authority approved in February.

Should homes or properties come available in the defined boundaries of each area – whether by foreclosure, tax delinquency or abandonment – the resolution earmarked up to $500,000 for the authority to acquire those properties.

The Land Bank Authority was created in 1996 through an intergovernmental agreement between the City of Macon and Bibb County, which consolidated to form the Macon-Bibb County government in 2013. The authority’s mission is to turn non-tax revenue generating properties to a productive use and eliminate blight, according to its website.

The authority wants to acquire about 180 homes in these four neighborhoods then “sell them in groups of critical mass with development plans attached,” Land Bank Executive Director and MBCAHF board chairperson Everett Verner said.

“We’re trying to incentivize developers in a more impactful manner,” Verner said. “It’s cheaper for them to build five houses at once than one house at a time. And if those houses aren’t near each other, it’s irrelevant. They need to be within close proximity.”

The effort to increase the county’s affordable housing inventory is propped up by a $7.5 million revolving loan fund county commissioners voted to establish in January. The fund is managed by the housing fund nonprofit and paid for with a portion of the nearly $76 million in federal dollars the county received under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Though affordable housing is a priority, Verner said, “any housing development would be better than what is there,” and getting properties back on the tax digest is key. The four areas targeted for development each have plenty of blighted properties and poverty rates of more than 50%, according to U.S. Census tract data.

“In an ideal world, some of our work will inevitably kickstart the free market to be more active in the neighborhood in a positive manner, rather than in a negative manner that a lot of times that’s what we’re seeing now,” Verner said, noting low-income landlords and neglected or abandoned properties cause values to take a hit.

Affordable single-family homes are in high demand, but the housing authority stopped building and selling them nearly two decades ago, Macon Housing Authority CEO Mike Austin said.

“We had some grant funding, but as that ran out, it came down to resources,” Austin said, adding that there is no major federal funding source or state tax credits available for single-family homes. “We also found that the contractors and real estate agents who do this for a living are good at it because they specialize in this.”

Though the resolution the Land Bank approved in February says the target areas were chosen by MBCAHF, Verner said the nonprofit has not yet taken any official action. Formal agreements between county and the nonprofit had not yet been finalized as of early April.

“While we are likely to decide on these areas, there could be more or they could be expanded, or they may have more policies that go along with them,” Verner said, adding he expects to learn more details in the coming months. “We still have a lot to work out before we can lend money out. We are currently still working towards establishing the underwriting and policies and procedures for it to operate.”

In addition to Verner and Austin, the housing fund nonprofit board includes representatives from the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, Synovus Bank and Stafford Builders & Consultants.

The housing fund board meets monthly on the first Thursday, but Verner said the meetings are not public because it is a nonprofit entity.

The Macon-Bibb Community Enhancement Authority, a state authority with a mission to eliminate poverty in the most impoverished areas of the county, also is concentrating home building efforts in Pleasant Hill, Fort Hill and on the east side of Houston Avenue.

“We’re trying to consolidate resources as best we can to make impacts,” Verner said. “That’s all in tandem with the affordable housing fund.”

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].