By Joel Hall
Recently, through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the federal government earmarked $153 million for state and local governments in Georgia, to stem the tide of foreclosures.
Nearly $10 million of that money has been set aside for Clayton County.
County officials will have until Dec. 1 first to submit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a plan for using those dollars.
Through HUD's Housing and Urban Development Stabilization Program, a product of national legislation passed this summer, local and state governments across the country will receive funding to acquire land and property; demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties; and offer downpayment- and closing-cost assistance to low- and moderate-income homebuyers.
The state of Georgia will receive $77 million, and $76 million will be divided among nine county and municipal governments. The allocations will be: City of Atlanta, $12,316,082; City of Augusta, $2,473,064; Clayton County, $9,732,126; Cobb County, $6,889,134; Columbus and Muscogee counties, $3,117,039; DeKalb County, $18,545,013; Fulton County, $10,333,410; Gwinnett County, $10,507,827; and the City of Savannah, $2,038,631.
Out of the nine local governments receiving funding, Clayton County was identified as having the highest foreclosure rate.
Clayton County's foreclosure rate is 9.9 percent, according to HUD, and the highest in new foreclosure listings. That is more than twice the national average (4.8 percent) and nearly twice the state average (5.2 percent). In November, 591 foreclosed homes will be auctioned off on the steps of the Clayton County Courthouse.
Brian Sullivan, HUD spokesperson, said the money Clayton County stands to receive may have a significant, positive impact on the local housing market.
"The intent of this money was to provide local communities, like Clayton County, with a resource so it could purchase foreclosed homes that are at risk of abandonment and could become sources of blight in their community," said Sullivan. He said the money is designed to allow communities to "purchase abandoned properties, rehabilitate them, and get families back into them," so neighboring property values will remain stable.
Sullivan said a portion of the state allocation could be diverted to areas like Clayton County, if the state deems it necessary.
"We won't know what Clayton County wants to do with that money until they provide us with a plan," said Sullivan. "Those plans are due Dec. 1."
Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said he will travel to Washington, D.C., this weekend to discuss, among several things, how to best allocate the funds and to which organizations the funds be given.
"Approximately 2,800 houses are currently in foreclosure [in Clayton County] and I plan to do what I can for all of them," said Bell
"I want to have a total impact on foreclosures in Clayton County. We're not just looking at buying the houses and redoing them ... We want to prevent foreclosures in the future."
Carlo Musso, board chairman of the Housing Authority of Clayton County (HACC), said the timing of the funds couldn't be better.
Musso said the funding may "invigorate" the Clayton County Foreclosure Resource Center, a recent collaboration among the HACC, Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, Consumer Credit Counseling Agency, and the Metro South Association of Realtors. He said the program will use overlay maps to identify "hot spots" to be targeted for foreclosure prevention, as well as serve as an information center for locals facing home foreclosures.
"We want to save Clayton County, one neighborhood at a time," said Musso. "[The Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding] will be a huge boost. It's a significant amount of resources."
U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who fought for the bill in Congress and authored parts of the legislation, said the program has the potential to "stop the slide of foreclosures" in the county. He added, however, it would be up to Clayton County to submit a thoughtful proposal.
"The ball is clearly in Clayton County's [court]," said Scott. "Clayton has to take this $10 million and make sure we utilize it properly. People are looking and they are going to watch and see how this money is going to be utilized.
"They have to work on a good proposal," said Scott. "They've got a few weeks here, but it's so important."