Since 2003, the Marietta Housing Authority has knocked down almost all of its public housing units, giving former residents Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers to live wherever they choose, provided their landlord participates in the federal government’s low-income housing program.
Now parks, mixed-used developments and residential complexes are popping up and bringing a new life to those old public apartments. Three former public-housing sites have been cleared and are poised to be transformed into luxury developments. Two others are being used as green space and could eventually be developed. Ray Buday, executive director of the Marietta Housing Authority, says the decision to tear down government housing is part of a movement to get away from concentrating low-income families in one area. “From kind of a sociological perspective, it’s much better to have folks, especially families with kids, not living in an environment of what I call the projects,” Buday said. “Even the word ‘project’ has taken on a negative connotation over the last couple of decades.” If low-income families live in an environment where “people are perhaps more likely to be interested in careers and jobs and education,” Buday says the cycle of poverty could be broken. Buday is glad to see that owner-occupied housing will replace once-deteriorating housing projects, like Lyam Homes, a 125-unit complex built in 1951 that was razed by the authority in June 2007. The cost of bringing the property up to modern standards was greater than the cost of tearing it down and offers its residents Section 8 vouchers for affordable housing. “When I came in 2005, it was clearly the worst project in terms of environment,” Buday said. “It kind of exemplified the difficulties of public housing projects. Everyone in the project is low income. It was not what we favor today, which is mixed income.” Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin agrees that it’s more ideal for low-income residents to have the option to live outside of government housing. “I’m a proponent of Section 8,” Tumlin said. “We outta live together and I think that’s what that does.” The spike in construction comes at a time that some elected officials in Marietta are touting a $68 million bond that would be used to purchase and demolish properties along Franklin Road in an effort to entice developers. Marietta voters will get to weigh in on the bond in the November election. Developments underway At Montgomery Park, formerly Lyman Homes, 10 houses have been sold, said Chris Poston, senior vice president for Traton Homes. He says that’s a sign of the demand. The first of the mostly four-bedroom homes ranging from 2,200 square feet to 3,000 square feet will be completed between December and January, and the development could be completed by next summer. A total of 45 homes in the $300,000 to $350,000 range will be built on the 8-acre site. Former projects Johnny Walker Homes and Clay Homes are also being transformed into mixed-use and residential developments. A 12-acre site that used to be Clay Homes is on its way to becoming 132 luxury homes priced in the $400,000s. The 11-acre site, called Meeting Park, will have a mixed use with some retail and commercial properties on Roswell Street and 126 residential units made up of 70 townhomes, 48 single-family homes and eight duplexes. Another mixed-use development will take the place of Johnny Walker Homes and will be called Marietta Walk. The development will include 50,000 square feet of retail and office space and 45 condominiums in two mixed-use buildings along Powder Springs Street with 58 townhomes and 18 single-family detached homes on the remainder of the 10-acre site. Joe Hilscher, vice president of sales and marketing for Traton Homes, says Marietta has a need for attractive owner-occupied housing. “All over, the homes are coming back, and I think it’s a function of the economy and I also think it’s a function of the lack of inventory,” Hilscher said. Mayor Tumlin says the city needs more housing options. “Marietta definitely had a shortage of housing,” Tumlin said. But buyers like the city’s proximity to downtown Atlanta and its atmosphere, he said. “They like the Square, they like where it’s located,” Tumlin said. “We’re just seeing a lot of enthusiasm.” Before the Great Recession took hold of developments, Marietta saw demand for expensive homes upward of $500,000, but Tumlin says that has changed. Now, younger families are looking for more affordable, attractive and safe housing. He says it will be those younger families that help Marietta maintain its sense of community. “The communities that are long and stable are just a natural asset to the city, or any city,” Tumlin said. Community impact Beth Sessoms, economic development manager for Marietta, says that while many of the city’s government housing has been demolished for years, the economic impact is just now beginning to be seen. The Great Recession stalled some plans for new housing, Sessoms said, and the developments are gaining momentum. She says these developments will have an impact on home ownership and, in turn, could improve the city’s quality of life. “That has a huge impact on the community because you’re bringing people, like at Meeting Park, back to the downtown area which then supports the local restaurants and the stores,” Sessoms said. Government housing complexes have a reputation for being high crime and drug-infested areas, Buday said, and eliminating pockets of low-income housing can play a role in reducing crime. “We like to think (crime) will be diminished because of the more of an integration of low-income folks, people who pay lower rents, around so you don’t have a concentration,” Buday said.