Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Troubled Macon Homes reborn as Bartlett Crossing

The House Next Door: Part 6
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Beau Cabell/The Telegraph
Bartlett Crossing sits on the site of the old Macon Homes housing project in this 2014 photo.

The homes in Bartlett Crossing still look brand new: fresh paint, meticulously kept lawns, smiling and waving neighbors who have a clear sense of community.

But in this neighborhood off Napier Avenue near Pio Nono Avenue, Bartlett Crossing appears almost incongruous, its own island surrounded by aging homes with peeling paint that often aren’t maintained well.

The subdivision also marks a significant improvement on what used to be there — public housing known as Macon Homes.

The Rev. Ronald Toney was among those who wanted to do away with Macon Homes, off Churchill Street. The apartment homes sat vacant for years. The boarded-up, graffiti-strewn buildings had ceased to be habitable years earlier. Their only tenants were the criminal elements that would use the empty apartments for various illicit activities such as drugs and prostitution.

“We used to live in Macon Homes, and there was a lot of crime,” said Matthew Mosley, who now lives in a house off Bankston Avenue, adjacent to one side of Bartlett Crossing.

Perhaps the group of people most frustrated with Macon Homes was the congregation of Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church, a modern-looking sanctuary off Bartlett Street. Macon Homes, which stood just a few hundred yards away, was an unpleasant eyesore for Toney and his congregation.

“There were drugs, crime, all sorts of problems. You name it,” Toney said. “It was as bad an urban setting as any in America.”

Toney and the church petitioned for the city, then under Mayor C. Jack Ellis’ administration, and the property owners to do something about the run-down public housing. Toney and the church formed their own nonprofit arm and put together a plan to buy the land themselves. They wanted to level Macon Homes.

“If we could’ve done it, we would’ve done it,” Toney said. “But we didn’t have the money. We put together the vision, and we worked with the Ellis administration. When Robert Reichert became mayor, we worked with him, and we worked with the Macon Housing Authority. They wanted to use federal money to make it work.”

The effort finally met success.

Thanks to federal funds, the housing authority demolished Macon Homes in October 2009, clearing the area for a new development called Bartlett Crossing.

Neighborhood revitalization

In September 2009, the housing authority received $3 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds from the state’s Department of Community Affairs, as well as $950,000 in low income housing tax credits for the Bartlett Crossing development. The tax credits were designed to yield up to $8.8 million in equity funding for the project.

In addition, the city provided $500,000 for the project in the form of a Community Development Block Grant.

Soon after the city tore down Macon Homes, construction of 75 single-family rental units began on the 20-acre site designed for families with annual incomes starting at $23,250. There were floor plans for two-, three- and four-bedroom units.

The neighborhood began leasing houses in early 2011, with amenities that include washers, dryers, two bathrooms in each unit, Energy Star appliances and fixtures, energy efficient HVAC units, and lawn service. The subdivision also includes a community center with a gym, library and social gathering space, a covered pavilion with a picnic and barbecue area, playground and golf putting green.

As soon as Bartlett Crossing started leasing properties, the units filled up almost immediately. There was an instant waiting list. As of July, 238 people are on the waiting list, which had to be closed to any more potential tenants, housing authority officials said, because there’s so little turnover at the development.

“There’s not a whole bunch of turnover,” said Mike Austin, director of asset management for the housing authority. “It’s unfortunate for a lot of folks that it’s a long wait.”

“In the beginning, people refused to apply because of the area,” said Beth Webb, who manages the site. “Once it opened after the first of the year (in 2011), people came back and said, ‘Doggone it, I should’ve put in an application!’ ”

Webb said she opens the waiting list once a year.

“Often, there are people who have been on the waiting list for so long that they’ve forgotten that they’re on it,” she said. “There are also people who call me once a month” to see if there’s an opening.

Perisha Wilder, 28, spent three years on the list — virtually the entire time Bartlett Crossing has been in operation.

“One time I called, and I was No. 80” on the list, she said. “The last time I called, I was No. 6. They told me to keep calling, because they were doing a recertification and that some people wouldn’t be staying put. I was very excited. I was happy and ready to move.”

Wilder finally got the call she had been waiting for in April. A two-bedroom home had opened up. She and her 8-year-old daughter had been living in other housing authority residences in Macon, including Pendleton and Felton homes. For Wilder, there’s been no question that her new home is a significant upgrade.

“Even though Felton Homes was remodeled, it was just small,” she said. “The space (at Bartlett Crossing) is so much better than what I thought it would be. … Compared to (the other housing), here feels like a home.”

Wilder said beyond the physical amenities of the house, it’s a different, safer feeling living in Bartlett Crossing. “We were just looking for something better,” she said. “There’s more freedom here than in other places I’ve lived in the past. … I could say I was blessed to get one of these.”

Wilder isn’t the only resident who feels fortunate. Carlton Kitchens, 52, who owns a house-cleaning service, has lived at Bartlett Crossing since it opened.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Kitchens, who used to live in Macon’s Bloomfield neighborhood. “People migrated here in a nice, fashionable way.”

Kitchens said Bartlett Crossing mostly has remained a secret in Macon, with many people in the city still thinking the area hosts Macon Homes.

“People are surprised” when they see it, he said. “They didn’t know (Bartlett Crossing) was back here. Now, people want to move here.”

Moving in

Perhaps surprisingly, since Bartlett Crossing was built, crime has gone up in the neighborhood, not down, according to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

But those numbers, taken in raw form, may be a bit misleading. Bartlett Crossing has been in business for less than five years, and the crime numbers before construction began reflect either near-vacant land during construction or the period of time when vagrants squatted in Macon Homes and weren’t likely to call police to report a crime.

Most of the crime in Bartlett Crossing has been either residential burglaries or theft by taking, in part because where there are nice homes, there are more tempting targets for would-be thieves. In terms of violent crimes, there’s been just one aggravated assault reported in the five-year period. That was in 2012.

Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Woodford said the more dilapidated the housing, the bigger magnet it is to the criminal element for illicit activity.

“Something like that tends to invite criminals,” he said. “There were shootings, drug sales. We had drug dealers there. … One time, we went into one of the boarded-up houses and found a bunch of guns there.”

Since Bartlett Crossing opened, however, a strong Neighborhood Watch program has been established, and there’s a lot of cooperation among the neighbors, law enforcement and Lizzie Chapel Baptist, said sheriff’s Maj. Robert Grabowski.

“It’s been an excellent partnership,” he said. “They call us every time they see a strange car drive through or a person who shouldn’t be there.”

Austin said the housing authority has worked with the sheriff’s office to try to curtail crime by having patrol cars drive through the area more often and hiring off-duty deputies to provide security in the neighborhood.

Old photos of Macon Homes showed boarded-up or bullet-riddled houses where drugs were being sold, he said.

June Parker, chief executive officer of the Macon Housing Authority, said the crime numbers in Bartlett Crossing aren’t worse than most other Macon neighborhoods.

“(Larceny-related) crime is up throughout Macon-Bibb County,” she said.

Webb said those who live in Bartlett Crossing can’t have criminal records, and they are subject to background checks. Each of the houses has a built-in alarm system.

“A lot of the residents were raised in Macon Homes,” she said. “It was all boarded up, with graffiti and vermin everywhere. Now they undergo criminal background and credit checks.”

Webb said most of the residents have low to moderate incomes, and many of them receive government assistance. Some residents don’t pay any rent, depending on the circumstances, she said.

And the residents get a lot more by living in Bartlett Crossing, considering most of the homes’ rents compare favorably with most apartment complexes in Macon. A two-bedroom house in the neighborhood rents for between $425 and $495 per month, while the four-bedroom houses start at $605 a month. Leases run for a mandatory 12 months.

She said residents, for the most part, have been respectful of the property.

“You’re always going to have a few people who don’t care, but a lot of people really take pride in the neighborhood,” Webb said. “People are keeping it super-nice.”

People often use their house in Bartlett Crossing as a stepping stone to moving into a bigger home.

“They use Bartlett Crossing to live somewhere nice while they’re getting an education to get a better job,” Webb said. “Then they move on to something better.”

With Bartlett Crossing well-established now, Toney said he’d like to see revitalization expand. He said his church built three houses on previously unoccupied property down the street, and River Edge Behavioral Health Center is building two group homes in the neighborhood. Toney has purchased additional empty lots along the street, and once the church raises the money, he plans to use the land for a future project.

“What’s been a blessing to me is that now you can see mothers walking with their children,” he said. “You hear laughter. The neighborhood has really come to life. I just appreciate the various entities that helped make it happen. I prayed for it. I’m just glad to have these significant improvements. … We didn’t have the tangible money to make it happen, but we had the spirit to make it happen.”

 

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