January 30, 2013

Families Leaving Pauldoe Hope to Keep Kids at Alps


Amerriah Hitchcock, 8, and Katelyn Lawrence, 5, play outside their apartment in Jack R. Wells Homes. Their mother hopes to keep them at Alps Road Elementary even after the neighborhood is demolished.

Tamika Chandler may not be sure where she'll be living in six months, but she is sure of one thing: She wants her kids to continue going to Alps Road Elementary School.

The Chandlers are among the 125 families living at the Jack R. Wells public housing complex off Hawthorne Avenue. Come June 30, the 1970s-era apartment buildings will be torn down and replaced by the first phase of a public-private partnership to revitalize the property. Residents have until then to find new housing, whether it's in another Athens Housing Authority neighborhood or with a Housing Choice voucher from the state (often referred to as Section 8).

The change will affect about 150 children who attend Alps Road Elementary and Clarke Middle schools, some of whom are already moving out. 

"We have worked with [CCSD], and we'll make sure that children who attend Alps Road School, Clarke Middle and Clarke Central will have transportation to those schools through the end of the school year if the family wishes to complete the school year at those schools," says Marilyn Appleby, marketing and communications coordinator for AHA.

With a total school population of 402, the 133 kids between the ages of 6 and 13 who now live in Jack R. Wells (commonly known as Pauldoe) make up roughly a third of the school's population. Alps students come from neighborhoods west of Hawthorne Avenue, along Broad Street and south to Bobbin Mill Road.

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, CCSD's director of public relations, says it's premature to talk about changing the Alps Road district. "We are not currently looking at redistricting," she tells Flagpole

"For the rest of the school year, the school district will provide transportation so that students can stay at Alps," she says. "As far as next year and beyond, the school district is working to help parents identify housing as available in the Alps attendance zone, as many wish to stay. That being said, many will also move outside of the Alps attendance zone and attend different schools next year."

The first phase of construction won't bring families back. It will be made up of 100 units for seniors. That phase of construction will last until fall of 2014, Appleby says. Meanwhile, AHA will apply for tax credits to finance Phase 2 of the project. AHA is partnering with private developer Columbia Residential, which is providing some of the non-government capital for the project. If phases two and three go as planned, construction would take place in 2014–2015 and 2015–2016.

In the meantime, some residents may choose to move to another AHA neighborhood, while others will apply for a voucher and look for apartments on the open market. Residents who choose to go to another AHA property will get priority over the hundreds of other applicants on the waiting list.

Kelvin and Jamie Garcia, who arrived at Jack R. Wells neighborhood in August from Binghamton, NY, consider the move a good thing. Kelvin says the AHA has been open and up-front with residents about the changes, and they just received the keys for their new apartment in the Nellie B neighborhood. With four children younger than 6, it's less expensive to move to another AHA apartment than to pay to set up utilities or come up with the cash for a security deposit.

Because their oldest son is in kindergarten, the transition to a new school in the fall won't be as severe, they say. "He'll be in [Alps] until the end of the year," Jamie Garcia says. "And then we'll switch him. They thought of everything to make sure everyone would be comfortable."

When the development is finished, the Garcias say they'll jump at the chance to move back—and they'll be able to, since residents get the first option on the subsidized apartments. When it's finished, the new Jack R. Wells neighborhood will have 125 public housing units, 125 subsidized units and 125 rented at market rates. The current Jack R. Wells neighborhood has 125 units total.

Unlike the Garcias, Chandler, the mother of three girls between ages 5 and 13, says she's trying hard to stay in the Alps Road neighborhood. If it means driving her children to school—one attends Clarke Middle, while the two younger girls attend Alps—she'll do it, she says.

"I'll go to any neighborhood, but Alps Road is a good school; Clarke Middle is a good school," she says. "I told them, I would provide transportation for my kids, because I really love Alps."