Cobb's home subsidization program takes off
by Noreen Cochran
February 06, 2013 12:10 AM | 4444 views | 1 1 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left, Chris Poston of Traton Homes, Beth Sessoms with the city of Marietta, builder Bob Hupp, city councilmen Philip Goldstein and Anthony Coleman, City Manager Bill Bruton, real estate agent Glenn Field, Michael Hughes with Cobb County, Mitch Bland with the city and Kimberly Roberts with the county gather on the porch of 523 Lemon St., the city’s newest addition to the Marietta Initiative for Neighborhood Transformation.<br>Staff/Noreen Cochran
From left, Chris Poston of Traton Homes, Beth Sessoms with the city of Marietta, builder Bob Hupp, city councilmen Philip Goldstein and Anthony Coleman, City Manager Bill Bruton, real estate agent Glenn Field, Michael Hughes with Cobb County, Mitch Bland with the city and Kimberly Roberts with the county gather on the porch of 523 Lemon St., the city’s newest addition to the Marietta Initiative for Neighborhood Transformation.
Staff/Noreen Cochran
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Although homebuyers Kyle and Haley Anderson haven’t moved in yet at 523 Lemon St., Marietta and Cobb County officials held an open house there Tuesday to celebrate.

City Councilman Anthony Coleman, in whose ward the property lies, said a city-county consortium is chipping away at the city’s inventory of eyesores and adding taxpaying homesteads like Anderson’s.

“Owner-occupied housing helps Marietta’s tax base,” he said.

Taxes and higher real estate values are the return on investment the city and county hope to gain from using $250,000 a year in federal Housing and Urban Development funds to build affordable starter homes.

“The city has the funds,” said Mitch Bland, city housing and community development manager. “The county did the administrative part to get the houses built.”

Three houses, including Anderson’s, have been built by Traton Homes, with another three to four in the pipeline, he said.

Traton also built 16 homes in unincorporated Cobb through the HUD Home program, administered by the county through a Community Development Block Grant.

The price of the three-bedroom, two-bath property on Lemon Street was $79,900, 20 to 40 percent below its $100,000 to $140,000 value, according to contractor Bob Hupp and real estate agent Glenn Field.

City Manager Bill Bruton said partially subsidizing the homes is a step up from using federal funds for piecemeal home repairs, such as roof replacements, water lines, windows or porches.

“The problem is the rest of the house would fall apart later,” he said.

The city instead established the Marietta Initiative for Neighborhood Transformation.

“We decided with MINT we would create a new program to take out the worst houses in the neighborhood that were blighted and build new homes with Home funds that would lift property values up plus provide first-time home buyers an affordable home,” Bruton said.

Coleman said the city hopes to do more of these projects next year.

“It helps Marietta’s goals of neighborhood stabilization,” he said.

Michael Hughes, county economic development director, said a stabilized community has fewer people moving in and out.

Benefits include neighbors getting to know — and watch out for — each other and better upkeep of houses and lawns.

“People take pride of ownership in their property,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the Andersons can take pride in the upscale touches in their 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath house overlooking Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church.

“It has features you usually find in a higher-priced home,” Hughes said, referring to granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances and touch-pad thermostats. “Traton did a good job.”

Chris Poston, Traton senior vice president, said economies of scale from building 230 homes a year helped make the amenities affordable.

“I think with us being a private builder, because of the quantity we do, we were able to put those in,” he said.

Poston said although he had to go through the usual red tape regarding rezonings and building permits, he enjoyed working with the consortium.

“The CDBG and MINT have been great to work with. They appreciate what the public-private partnership can do,” he said.

Not everyone favors using federal dollars for the Home program.

Larry Wills, a Marietta resident and occasional Journal columnist, said he doesn’t think government should be in the real estate business.

“I don’t think you should use tax dollars to build private housing and compete with the free market. It’s never worked and it never will work,” he said.

Wills said he foresees trouble.

“This is one of those feel-good things they like to do but it actually has very little impact and it distorts the real estate market. In the long run, it probably actually does more harm,” he said.

Wills compared its effects to the mortgage meltdown of 2008.

“It’s the same thing as the housing bubble when (banks) subsidized loans and gave easy terms to people who couldn’t afford houses, which led to the high foreclosure rate,” he said.

Wills said he advocates a different government practice.

“What I can support is land banking, which is buying up and holding abandoned or dilapidated property that is an eyesore or health hazard, then selling it to a private entity to come and develop it,” he said.

Atlanta resident Anderson, 23, and a first-time homebuyer, said he is happy to be a Home program beneficiary.

“I guess we lucked out,” said the CNN satellite operator. “It’s been a big blessing to have the opportunity to move into a house where I can build equity at my age.”
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anonymous
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February 06, 2013
I'm with Wills. This program stinks. Find another way, but don't mess with the local housing market like this. The unintended consequences aren't going to be pretty.
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