Yamacraw Village residents uncertain about future as demolition considered

Residential units are deteriorating and must be repaired or replaced

From fussy plumbing and electrical issues to mold and crime, Yamacraw Village residents face difficult living situations in 80-year-old public housing on a daily basis. Conditions have deteriorated to such an extent that the Savannah Housing Authority is considering demolishing Yamacraw’s 315 units.

This possibility has made residents uncertain about their future and divided about what should be done with the neighborhood.

Walking through Yamacraw with her children on Monday, Niesha Bacon said she had received word from HAS last fall about the possible demolition and relocation.

“I think it is a good decision. To be honest, I think it should have been a long time because these apartments are very old, ”said Bacon, who has lived in Yamacraw for two years.

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Bacon said relocation is her number one concern. Earline Davis, executive director of the HAS, said residents would be moved to other HAS-managed properties if they were not eligible for a replacement voucher, a type of housing allowance that makes the difference between what a family can afford and the market rent for appropriate homes.

Bacon said she would rather use a voucher than move to another HAS development.

“I would probably rather have the voucher program than be in another housing project because when I’m in a housing project there is a lot going on that you have no control over,” she said. “(I’m) about to have a baby, I just want to be prepared, so I feel like they should at least be doing some sort of classes or something like that to get us ready for it.”

One of Bacon’s newest neighbors, Thelma Williams, has lived in Yamacraw since March. She too is concerned about where she and other residents will go. She also wants homes to remain on the site, whether it concerns the current complex or a new construction project.

“When they tear them down, they have to rebuild them and keep the name like they did with other complexes. That would be great, because this is a historic place, ”she said.

Repairs would cost $ 40 million

The HAS Board is considering the demolition of Yamacraw based on the outcome of a Physical Needs Assessment conducted by The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved contractors, according to Davis. The assessment looked at heating and air systems, building structures and age.

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The estimated repair costs for Yamacraw were set at about $ 40 million, Davis said. Due to this cost price, the development meets the requirements for demolition work below Article 18 of the 1937 Housing Act, which means that the rehabilitation costs are more than 60% of the redevelopment costs.

Savannah’s housing authority is awaiting the outcome of an environmental investigation before it can file an application for demolition with HUD.

“That’s what we’ve done and there are no other plans at the moment,” Davis said.

Davis expects the application to be filed in the late summer or early fall. Based on the experience with previous applications, it can take up to a year for the HUD to make a decision on the scrapping request.

Yamacraw was built in 1941 and comprises 315 units of conventional public housing. The complex is almost fully occupied with only 42 vacant properties and 37 of those units are being repaired to make them ready for rent.

If the demolition is approved, everyone who has lived with Yamacraw for at least two years will be eligible for a voucher. Others would be moved to other properties managed by the HAS, such as Simon F. Frazier Homes, Single Family Homes, Pickens A. Patterson Terrace, or Horace Stillwell Towers, which are open to elderly residents and people with disabilities.

“Many of those families currently living in Yamacraw would qualify for a voucher and they would enter the private real estate market and get an apartment or house to meet their family’s needs,” Davis said.

Regina Mumford, a resident of Yamacraw for nearly two years, said she is in favor of the demolition.

“Crime is bad, maintenance is being boosted. I have a (handrail on my) staircase in my hallway that fell apart two weeks ago and there is still no one to fix it, ”said Mumford, who said she also has problems with her plumbing and mold.

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Davis said the roots of the live oaks covering the neighborhood have caused problems with plumbing and reverse sidewalks throughout the complex. The last major project on the complex was the new roof covering of all apartments and porches. In 2006 all units received central heating and air conditioning.

“The moisture content in Savannah also leads to some mold,” Davis said. “While we identify these problems, we do what we can to correct them. If we can’t, then we relocate those residents.”

The future of Yamacraw

Other residents would rather see the neighborhood renovated than demolished.

Terrica Hodges moved into the neighborhood from Covington about seven months ago and doesn’t want to move again.

Just make it better instead of overthrow it. That does not change the situation, it only changes the environment. As if that won’t help the community … give more to the community, get more involved with the community to change the community, not the look of a community, ”she said.

While the HAS prefers to continue to manage affordable housing on the Yamacraw site, there are several factors that will determine the best use of the 22 acre site, including a market survey.

“In Hitch and Fellwood, we did a market study that said, ‘Yes, housing was the right choice for those areas and whether it would support both competitive housing and affordable housing,’” said Davis.

The HAS board would have input and they would also work with the City of Savannah because what is happening on the property requires infrastructure.

Yamacraw residents’ relocation was set to begin approximately 90 days after the HUD’s approval. Residents would be relocated by February 2022 if HUD approval is given on or before October 2021.

The property is currently zoned DX Downtown Expansion, which is intended to be the expansion of the Central Business District by housing larger buildings and additional uses. These areas are meant to be compatible and connected with the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

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In addition to a variety of housing types such as condos, townhouses, and single-family homes, the zoning plan also offers student dormitories, general retail, craft distilleries, tour company terminals, and hotels.

Bacon said if the housing doesn’t come back to the site, she’s expecting hotel development. The property is part of Savannah’s hotel overlay development district and allows small hotels with 16 to 74 rooms and large hotels with more than 75 rooms.

“I just feel like this is the area it’s centered on,” she said.

Davis said available funding also plays an important role in Yamacraw’s future. When the HAS renovated Garden Homes, now Ashley Midtown I and II, in the early 2000s, they received $ 11 million in federal funding and used SPLOST dollars for infrastructure. They also partnered with a private sector company, which received tax breaks for low-income homes.

“We work very hard to make sure we have affordable housing everywhere,” said Davis, adding that the HAS strives to have all incomes represented, from those who rent to those who own it.

While the HAS completes the steps required to submit the demolition application, Hodges and the other residents wait and see where they might end up next.

“For the people who are already here, why not fix it up rather than tear it down and get us moving? We will understand that there is more than kicking us aside and saying, “Okay, now you have to move,” Hodges said.

“There is so much that can be done and they feel like breaking it down is the solution when I feel like you just have to fix it.”

Katie Nussbaum is the city and county reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at [email protected] Twitter: KmartSMN

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