ALBANY, Ga. -- There was obvious reluctance on the part of the Albany City Commission, but in the end commissioners gave non-binding approval that would allow AME Bethel Housing L.P. to use $500,000 in federal HOME Investment Partnership Program funds to upgrade and manage an apartment complex in East Albany.
Commissioners questioned staff and developer Steve Brooks with Valdosta-based IDP Housing extensively before voting 5-2 to tentatively approve AME Bethel Housing, which was certified as a Community Housing Development Organization just last week, to receive the funding that will be used as part of a $10.6 million renovation project on a 98-unit affordable housing complex at 507 Swift Street.
Only Housing and Urban Development-certified Community Housing Development Organizations, or CHDOs, qualify for the HOME funding.
"I have a bad feeling about a church selling property to another arm of the church," Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta, who voted against the funding, said after Brooks told the commission the apartment complex is currently owned by Bethel AME Church. Brooks also said the complex is 100 percent occupied.
When told by interim Community and Economic Development Director Shelena Hawkins that the project would be AME Bethel Housing's first project as a CHDO, Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said that alone was cause for a "red flag." Howard later joined Marietta in voting against the HUD financing.
Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff lamented the choices faced by the commission.
"I suppose if the money is not spent properly that (the city) could be forced to pay back the loan," Langstaff said of the $500,000 in HOME funding. "And I would assume that the only other option is to send the money back to the federal government and risk losing future funding."
Hawkins confirmed his statements, and her CED colleague, Housing Program Manager Laura McCool, later emphasized that federal guidelines require that a percentage of HOME funding be granted to CHDOs like AME Bethel Housing.
"HUD requires that we assign 15 percent of our total HOME funding to a CHDO," McCool said. "That amount now is anywhere from $55,000 to $92,000. The $500,000 is the collection of unused HOME funds from 2007 to 2012."
Brooks assured the commission any misuse of funding would be the responsibility of the IDP Housing-led project team.
"If there are any violations, it would fall on our organization to repay the funds," he said. "The city would not have any financial obligation."
Brooks said the remaining $10.1 million in funding on the project would come from HUD-insured loans and a $3.8 million investment by a private company that would in return get all applicable federal tax credits.
The apartment complex was built by Bethel AME in 1973 and has been managed by the church since.
"What this will be is a complete upgrade of these apartments," said Brooks, who indicated IDP had been involved in "more than 100" such projects. "The residents will get a modernized apartment with amenities that weren't available when the complex was built."
A vote on the matter is not binding until taken at the city's monthly night session next Tuesday.