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Athens Habitat Awarded Two Major Grants for Affordable Housing Project

Spencer Frye works at a Habitat site in January 2020. Credit: Adria Carpenter/file

Gov. Brian Kemp has awarded Athens Area Habitat for Humanity $4.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for an innovative affordable housing project on the Eastside, and Sen. Raphael Warnock also announced last week that he and Sen. Jon Ossoff have secured an additional $2.9 million.

The project, dubbed Micah’s Creek, will include 50–60 residences for local veterans, musicians and artists, as well as homeless college students and families with children in the Gaines Elementary School attendance zone, according to AAHH Executive Director Spencer Frye. It will be a community of “smaller homes” that will sell for about $140,000—less than half the median home price in Athens of $350,000, Frye said. He declined to reveal the exact location because the agency is still assembling land.

Frye cited a 2017 statewide study showing that most Habitat homeowners no longer need public assistance, and that their children tend to experience better educational outcomes. Gaines has a high poverty rate and perennially low test scores. “To my knowledge, this will be the first project to try to affect the outcomes of a school district,” Frye said.

In addition, Habitat will work with Lydia’s Place, a Watkinsville organization that seeks to find homes for college students who have aged out of the foster care system. “A lot of folks don’t realize, we have a pretty big problem with college students who are homeless,” Frye said. He said he knew one UGA student who was homeless and showering at the Ramsey Center and applied for a Habitat house, but was no longer eligible when she graduated and got a job, and is now saving up to buy a house on the private market.

Athens Habitat was one of 15 organizations that received a share of $62 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for housing and homelessness that Kemp awarded last month. The additional $2.9 million Warnock announced last week comes from another Senate funding bill.

Frye said Habitat also plans to apply to the ACC government for additional ARPA funding—the Biden administration’s 2021 economic stimulus bill—to help cover the remainder of the $15 million project. Out of the $35 million in unspent ARPA funds, the ACC Mayor and Commission has set aside $11 million for affordable housing and $5 million to address homelessness. (Other buckets are earmarked for supporting local businesses and workers, youth programs and mental health.)

The fact that both Kemp, a Republican, and Warnock, a Democrat, both set aside funding for Micah’s Creek is an all-too-rare example of bipartisanship, said Frye, who is also a Democratic state representative. (That Kemp and virtually every other Republican opposed ARPA went unmentioned.) “People realize that this [lack of affordable housing] is a real issue we face, and we have to do something about it,” Frye said. “We have to be creative, and we have to show results.”