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County moves on neighborhood stabilization

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In response to the foreclosure crisis, the Housing Authority of Clayton County is taking aggressive measures to locate and renovate abandoned homes, and find them new owners.

In two weeks time, the authority will purchase the first of many abandoned homes being targeted through its Neighborhood Stabilization Pilot Program. The program targets 18-20 abandoned homes per year. It will begin this month by focusing on properties along Bethsaida Road in Riverdale, and Thomas Road in Jonesboro.

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said Bethsaida and Thomas roads are "some of the areas that need the greatest attention" and that he believes the program will help put many of the area's abandoned homes back on the market.

"Some of the banking advisors I have talked to believe we are reaching the end of this foreclosure crisis," Bell said. "It is still a buyer's market. We hope that we'll see a lot of these houses come off the market, and people can live in them again."

Some $500,000 has been allotted to the stabilization program to purchase, repair, and renovate abandoned and foreclosed homes, according to housing authority officials. Robert Walker, an authority board member, said a maximum of $50,000 will be used to purchase and repair any individual property.

The Darden Development Group, with offices in Jonesboro and Roswell, has been tasked with leading the Neighborhood Stabilization Pilot Program. According to Cal Darden, the company's CEO, the development team will include Cascade Building Systems, LLC, which will do repairs and renovations; The Real Estate Gallery of Georgia, LLC, which will identify and counsel low-to-moderate income individuals and families seeking home ownership; and Capitol City Bank and Trust, which will offer affordable home loans to families with less-than-great credit.

"We're going to do whatever we can to bring these homes up to snuff," Darden said. "In four weeks ... we can do an extreme makeover on a property and put the right family into that home. We're going to do pre-counseling and post-counseling. I think that is all part of helping a first-time homeowner maintain the home that they have bought."

Darden said that, with the reinstatement of Clayton County Public Schools' accreditation, he expects families who took their children out of the school system will move back into the county. He said the housing authority will work to put as many homes back on the market as they can, before the start of the school year.

"We want to draw people back into Clayton County," he said. "Just a small investment in two or three homes makes a huge difference. This is going to make all the neighborhoods better, which is going to give people a bigger sense of pride."

David Barton serves as program coordinator for the Clayton County Foreclosure Resource Center, an arm of the housing authority, which administers the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. He believes the program will help curtail transiency in the county and issues associated with it.

"If there are transiency issues, its hard to put a finger on what the needs of the school system are," Barton said. "If you can stabilize the community, you can stabilize businesses, and you can improve test scores. This is a targeted concept. They've identified exactly who needs assistance and they are working tirelessly to make sure that anybody affected by the foreclosure crisis is getting the assistance they need."