Residents gathered on Monday, August 21, for a community input meeting to learn about the latest construction updates on North Downtown Athens Phase I. The development team discussed construction progress, the resident relocation plan, addressed residents’ concerns, and provided a brief update on Phase II of the redevelopment plan. Residents also spent time providing feedback and sharing their ideas on preferred amenities for Phase II.

The meeting started with a progress report of the current infrastructure work, including storm piping, ground utilities, and road construction. After that, attendees were provided with updates on the Phase I buildings, which are expected to be completed by 2025. Following that, the development team briefed the residents on the future plans for Phase II, including details on the proposed construction and financing plans. The tentative plan being proposed is to build 150–160 units, out of which 50% will be dedicated to Bethel Homes residents as replacement housing.

From there, the development team shared photos of example amenities for Phase II, including exterior gathering spaces, community gardens, indoor and outdoor playground areas, a fitness center with equipment vs. open gym workout space, a computer lab, or more open flex business space, and community room ideas. Residents generally preferred the concept of an indoor playroom for children and a courtyard space with barbecue areas and a pavilion rather than outdoor play equipment. Residents also preferred an open business room layout instead of a computer lab. Resident services coordinator for Bethel Homes noted that personal computers are attainable within the community donor network so an open space room that can be used for homework, gathering, reading, or business on personal computers may be best. Additional responses from residents included benches with charging stations for cell phones and a reminder to have a space for packages to be delivered. While no final decisions were made about amenities, the ideas shared created a good starting point for the design of Phase II.

After a thorough discussion of amenities, the development team and residents shifted their attention to resident concerns such as relocation, rent increases, property issues, and safety.

The development team explained that rent changes are contingent upon the resident’s program. If a resident is in the voucher program, rent is regulatory based on a formula, that will not change. If residents are in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, the rents are set by the government. These rents are published annually and based on the area median income.

Relocation services were also explained, and rules were shared by Phillip West of Dash and Dwell (the relocation company hired for Phase I and who will be engaged for Phase II relocations). Phillip emphasized, “The desire of both Columbia Residential and Athens Housing Authority (AHA) is for you to come back to the dream you created.” He indicated that there are three tiers they are managing related to relocation:

  1. Seniors – We will try our best not to displace.
  2. Families with children – We will try to relocate on-site so the confusion for children is limited.
  3. In all cases, we will relocate only to housing that is decent, safe, and sanitary.

West explained to residents that the owner would be executing a lease on their behalf for off-site units and all tenant rules would still apply. Violations can lead to eviction. He concluded by saying that the General Information Notices (GIN) will be going out soon and resident meetings will start on August 22.

Finally, management provided clarity and instructions on topics raised at previous resident meetings such as trash pickup and pest control, confirming these services will be maintained. Notably, pest control services will be reviewed by upper management to ensure the best services are provided to the existing Bethel buildings. It was concluded that management would put out another notice in the newsletter about how to request additional pest control services. It was also noted that trash management is part of the community’s responsibility. Management went on to share that the “Site Plan” app can be used for rent payments (though with a charge by the app). For requesting work orders, this app should be used (free of charge) by residents. Use of this app allows for the most efficient access to work order details, follow up times, and tracking by residents and the management company.

The community input meeting ended with residents expressing their appreciation for the efforts made by the management and the development teams. Development team lead, Christina DeMaioribus, noted that the next meetings will focus on the rebranding and potential renaming of the community and will take place later this fall TBD.