WEST POINT — Jamie Garner’s former home used to be “awful,” she said Monday.
“I couldn’t wash my clothes, I couldn’t cook because the stove would heat up the whole place, the air conditioning was a window unit that hardly worked,” she said as she checked her mail at her new apartment complex in West Point. “I love my new place, it’s a blessing. The inside is awesome — and it’s affordable. It’s 26 dollars cheaper than my old place, in fact.”
Garner is one of 28 people who have moved into Forest Mill, a new income-sensitive apartment complex in West Point. She’s been there since July 5, she said, and 23 more people may join her as new neighbors as soon as they complete a qualifying process.
The 80-unit venture was coordinated by DASH for LaGrange, an affordable housing nonprofit founded by former Troup County Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe; he continues to hold the position of chairman of DASH for LaGrange.
Randy Fleece, the CEO of Gateway Management Company, which is overseeing the property, said the complex fills a gap in affordable housing for some residents.
“What we’re looking at today is about two-and-a-half years of hard work by many, many people,” Fleece said during a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the complex’s opening. “This whole part of the state has grown and the housing needs have changed. We’re hoping to provide a quality product that helps working families.”
Forest Mill is many things to many people. It’s a home, a swimming pool and playground, a community and a higher standard of living, but there’s one thing it’s not: a housing project.
The public-private concept brings together local, state and federal government entities, for-profit companies and nonprofit agencies. Based on the looks of the property, it may be hard for the average person to know there was anything different about the apartments, but there is. There’s an income cap for people living at Forest Mills — $31,140 for a family of four, to be precise. There are one, two and three bedroom apartments, but for a family of four earning the top-threshold income could lease a three bedroom for $445 monthly, according to Gateway’s regional property manager, Faith Sanders.
Wolfe, speaking to an audience before the ribbon cutting ceremony, said he hopes Forest Mill will make a difference in the lives of its residents.
“A lot of communities in this country have misconceptions of what low-income, tax-credit housing is. When I think about this place, I think about the elderly family that may live here and have some dignity in the latter part of their lives,” he said. “I think about a kid who may learn to swim in that pool … At the end of the day, it’s about helping families have a better future.”
The undertaking’s $7.6 million price tag was financed through public and private investments and tax credits. The Home Partnership Program, administered by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, gave the project a $1.8 million loan to begin construction, and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs helped the property gain access to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.
The tax credits are part of legislation passed by Congress during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 allows the U.S. Treasury Department to issue tax credits that are used to finance projects like Forest Mill. The state Department of Community Affairs allocates those tax credits to businesses —in the case of Forest Mill, the Gateway Management Company — on behalf of the federal government. Businesses like Gateway Management in turn take those tax credits, sell them to other businesses and use the profits to finance projects like Forest Mill. The business that bought the tax credit can benefit for up to 10 years by reducing their tax liability.
“A simple way to think of it is that it’s like a down payment on your home’s mortgage,” said Laurel Hart, division director with the Department of Community Affairs. “The builder then in turn take the money they’ve made from the sale of those tax credits and use it to finance construction … That way, because they’ve put more down, they’re able to lease the properties more affordably.”
The Department of Community Affairs also conducts yearly inspections of properties owned by companies that receive the tax credits to ensure they are complying with state and federal housing standards, Hart said.
The remaining units at Forest Mills are expected to be filled in the coming weeks, according to Gateway’s CEO. Gateway Management Company, based in Birmingham, Alabama, also runs five other properties within a 30-mile radius of Forest Mill, including Stony Ridge Apartments in Hogansville, and Valley Ridge and Mallard Lake apartments in LaGrange. The company manages 76 properties across the Southeast.
DASH for LaGrange is a nonprofit agency founded in 2002 with the goal to provide residents with dependable, affordable, sustainable housing. The organization was founded after a report commissioned by the city of LaGrange, the nonprofit Callaway Foundation and LaGrange College discovered in LaGrange, at the time with a population of 25,000 and 11,000 housing units, almost 3,000 housing units were found to be structurally substandard, “creating significant health and safety risks for their occupants,” according to DASH for LaGrange.
Since its founding, DASH for LaGrange has invested about $70 million in the Troup County area, according to Wolfe.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.