Affordable housing on the way

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The completion of G.W. Carver Circle was just cause for last Wednesday’s celebration. After all, the loop eliminates the dangerous intersection where East Washington, Culloden and Hall streets merge near the railroad tracks.

But last Wednesday also marked the debut of the first tangible evidence of city lawmakers’ pledge to bring more high-quality – yet affordable – housing to Suffolk.

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The traffic circle will be the centerpiece of the city’s $10 million Fairgrounds community, its first major urban renewal and revitalization project. The 150-home, mixed-use development off East Washington Street is touted as a cornerstone in the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.

&uot;A lot of people have spent the last two years working behind the scenes to get ready to turn those first shovels of dirt,&uot; said Jeryl Rose Philips, the city’s plans and policy officer and coordinator of the Fairgrounds project. &uot;We have accomplished so much, far more than meets the eye.&uot;

Over the next three years, Suffolk residents can expect to see a plethora of new homes and businesses sprout up in and around the Fairgrounds, she said.

&uot;There will be a mix of housing, although more will be for sale than rent,&uot; said Phillips. &uot;The houses will come in a varying range of sizes and price points.&uot;

There will be an array of housing stock, ranging from loft condominiums sitting above retail spaces to &uot;mansion apartments.&uot; Mansion apartments are large houses that contain between four and six apartments.

&uot;There will also be several styles of houses, ranging from the small cottages and bungalows to three- or- four-bedroom &uot;mansions.&uot;

Estimated price tags range from $85,000 for a loft condo to a max of $275,000 for a mansion-style house, Phillips said.

The public investment is what will make the homes so affordable, she said.

&uot;By using federal and state funds, we are providing a public subsidy to cover expenses normally incurred by a developer and passed along to the homebuyer,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;If the city can buy down the cost of land development, it brings prices down enough that first-time buyers can afford the housing.&uot;

&uot;The ultimate goal with the new neighborhood is to enable as many of people who lived there in the past to come back to the community,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;We are working with the SRHA to bring an array of first-time buyers programs on board.&uot;

Over the past two years, Phillips said, the city has worked with urban planners to develop a footprint of the neighborhood. After multiple meetings with the city and citizens for input, Urban Design Associates created a final layout.

In coming months, infrastructure work on the new neighborhood will get under way in coming months, thanks to a $3 million grant acquired from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Contracts should be issued by the end of August, Phillips said.

Specifically, the money will be used for undergrounding utilities for about two blocks of East Washington, from the railroad tracks to County Street. Other improvements planned for East Washington include widening sidewalks, installing decorative streetlights and crosswalks, and putting benches and trash receptacles along the street.

The funds will also be used to build the streets and other infrastructure leading into the new neighborhood.

&uot;That’s a 12-month project,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;That’s the big thing going on over the next 12 months.&uot;

Meanwhile, the SRHA is preparing to begin the property acquisitions that will be needed for the project, Phillips said.