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Housing summit to address critical issues

Clayton County plans to deal with its housing issues, and the whole region is invited to participate.

There will be a free "Clayton County Regional Housing Summit: ‘Step Step, Remedies for Recovery,'" today, from 8:30 a.m., to 4:30 p.m., at the Morrow Center, 1180 Southlake Circle, in Morrow.

According to Peryenthia Hudson, organizer of the event and office manager for Clayton County Housing and Community Development, the summit will continue on Friday, May 13, from 8:30, to 11:30 a.m., at the same location.

Pre-registration is required and people should call (770) 875-6693, or e-mail peryenthia.hudson@co.clayton.ga.us, for more information.

"This is the first regional housing summit under Chairman Bell's [Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell's] leadership," she said.

Lance Crawford, director of Clayton County Housing and Community Development, said the summit will address housing issues involving Clayton County, but attendees from the region can take the information and apply it to their areas. Crawford added that he is hopeful the county will figure out solutions, and people from the region will see the county as an example.

"Clayton County is acting as a laboratory, because of the number of foreclosures we had," Bell explained.

According to Hudson, national, state and local housing experts will be present, including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); Ron Sims, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and White House Advisor Michael Blake. Speakers from Freddie Mac and the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank will also attend, she said.

"We're trying to elicit responses to a wide range of folks, all who have interest in improving housing," said Crawford. The event aims to attract entities who play a role in the housing industry, including the public and private sectors, businesses, the banking sector, government officials and non-profit organizations, added Crawford.

Hudson said there will be break-out sessions to deal with topics such as foreclosures, senior housing, housing for working families, and veterans.

Crawford said that on a per-capita-basis, Clayton County has the highest rate of foreclosures in the area. From January, to April, there have been 2,752 foreclosure filings in the county. For 2010, the county had 10,454 foreclosure filings, he said.

The foreclosures occurred because home loans were given to people with bad credit, as well as the economic downturn, he said.

Clayton County's Neighborhood Stabilization Program helps address this issue, he said. The county received $9.7 million from HUD in 2009, to start the program.

With the program, the county purchases foreclosed homes, rehabilitates them and resales the properties. "The nice thing about the program is when we sell them, the money [comes] back to us ," he said.

Crawford said sales made from the program have generated in excess of $4 million.

In addition, he said, the senior population is increasing, and more senior communities need to be built. Most seniors live on a fixed income and are in need of affordable housing, he said.

Some seniors may have various issues, and need to live in a house or community that will assist in addressing them, said Crawford. These include physical issues, assistance with food preparation and 24-hour medical assistance.

"I'm 65," he continued. "I'd like to think I am not that old, but I am. Folks our age have a different set of primers we have to work with."

Clayton County also needs to attract, and make housing available for, the work force, said Crawford. People under the workforce category have a modest-middle income, and work in areas such as education, government and law enforcement. "We want to ensure these people ... particularly those who work in Clayton County, that we have affordable housing for them," he said.

He added that there is a high percentage of veterans in the U.S., who are homeless, and HUD is trying to eliminate this issue in five years. Improving shelters and transitional housing may assist, he said. But, he added, "It's very important that people in the county and region embrace the concept that we really need to face housing issues in a collaborative way."