By Sara Belsole
COLUMBUS, GA - The Booker T. Washington Apartments have sat in front of the Civic Center for 72 years.
But the Housing Authority says it's time for a makeover. It asked City Council for land and funding at Tuesday's meeting to move forward with proposed renovations.
"I think it's a very tangible benefit to the community," Housing Authority CEO Len Williams says.
The plan calls for two phases. First, about 100 units would be built on city-owned land in the Liberty District. A year or two later, 100 more units would be constructed on the North half of the existing site.
The South half of the site could be a place for commercial retailers to set up shop.
"I think it's a good thing," Booker T. Washington tenant Tony Johnson says.
There are currently 392 units on the property, but the Housing Authority says that doesn't mean those who don't receive a new unit will be without a home.
"They will receive a voucher, we will go out and help them find a home on the private market and then we will continue to pay a portion of their rent," Williams says.
It would cost $16 million per phase, 65% of that coming from private investments and tax credits.
"Wealthy investors are allowed to invest in these properties and in exchange they get a credit against their taxes," Williams says.
The Housing Authority will pay about $9 million into both phases, but it also needs the city's help to move forward.
"We need approval from the city. We need the land from the city and we need $1.5 million for each phase," Williams says.
But officials say it's worth it, based on what they have seen at other renovated housing projects.
"We have seen substantial drops in crime at Ashley Station and Arbor Point," Williams says.
Something Tony Johnson, who has lived at Booker T. Washington for six and a half years, says he is looking forward to. "There's too many drugs going on down here, there are too many young folks doing drugs and it's not good for anybody who is not doing it."
If the city approves the plan, construction will start on phase one in the summer of 2014. Tuesday's meeting was the last of the year, so council will start discussions on the renovation plan next year.
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