Savannah Morning News
May 11, 2011
The V-shaped pattern is visible in the spotless carpet, which is still slightly damp from the steam cleaner. There isn’t a mark on any of the taupe-colored walls in the three-bedroom apartment.
Every double-paned window can be raised to let in the spring breeze, and every energy-efficient appliance gleams in the spacious kitchen.
By the end of the day, new occupants will inhabit Unit 202, and once they do, all 110 apartments in Sustainable Fellwood Phase 1 will be fully occupied.
People at the top of the waiting list have already paid “good-faith” deposits to secure the next available unit.
“When we give tours, it’s always jaw-dropping,” said Earline Davis, executive director of the Housing Authority of Savannah. “They can’t believe the way it looks inside.”
Two years after Fellwood was reborn as a mixed-income housing development, it is changing the concept of affordable housing and spurring new, private residential development around its West Bay Street neighborhood.
In the next lot over, construction workers are hauling sheetrock, installing light fixtures and rapidly
bringing to completion the 110 units in Phase 2, which should be done by September.
By late October, 100 senior living apartments are expected to be finished. On adjoining streets, the Community Housing Services Agency, the building partner with the Housing Authority, plans to start construction on eight more single-family homes.
Fellwood is only part of Savannah’s ongoing residential transformation.
On the eastside, the initial drainage and road work is well under way at Savannah Gardens, the former Strathmore Estates.
When finished in 2014, an estimated 550 units will stand where dilapidated, World-War II-era cottages first built for
shipbuilders once stood. In their final years, the privately owned apartments were eyesores that became a source of crime and neighborhood blight.
Mercy Housing Southeast plans to have 115 apartment units finished by the end of the year just west of Pennsylvania Avenue, and CHSA, the development partner at Fellwood, too, plans to have the first 20 of its 120 single-family units under construction this year.
Martin Fretty, Savannah’s director of housing, still gets a bit stunned at the scope of the project — the largest development the city has ever undertaken — and the change he thinks it will bring.
“I think it will have a ton of psychological relief to the area. It was ground zero,” he said. “I would get calls every week from neighboring property owners saying, ‘I have to get out.’ This was giving lots of good reason to leave the neighborhood.”
A rebuilt Savannah Gardens, he says, should improve surrounding property values and neighborhood morale. Located just north of Gwinnett along Pennsylvania Avenue, Savannah Gardens borders Gordonston, is close to downtown, the Truman Parkway and not far from Tybee Island, Fretty points out.
While city officials aren’t expecting the development to reverse the exodus to Pooler, Richmond Hill or Effingham County, they are hoping that affordable, energy-efficient homes with parks, a community center and other amenities will stabilize the neighborhood drain.
“This is hopefully the catalyst for a bunch of good things that will grow out of it,” he said, “just like Fellwood on the west.”
At Fellwood, 40 of the
110 units in each phase are dedicated to subsidized public income tenants. To be eligible in that criteria, a renter either needs to work a minimum 30-hour-a-week job, be 62 or older or be disabled.
Public-housing tenants who lose their jobs or refuse to work or get job training are given
60 days to find work or lose their apartment. Their options are older public housing units such as Kayton or Frazier homes or private-sector rental housing, Davis said.
The public housing units in newer, mixed-income developments represent only about
9 percent of the Housing Authority’s stock.
“The only way to sustain this at this level is for people to pay,” she said. “You just can’t sit around saying woe is me.”
Another 48 units are dedicated to tenants who earn
60 percent or less of the median area income. For a three-bedroom apartment, that means annual earnings can’t exceed $28,000. The other 22 units are available to anyone who can pay the market rate.
No one area is set aside for public-housing tenants. When a unit comes open, staff determines whether another public-housing tenant can move in or whether it can go market rate.
A two-bedroom, two-bath unit rents for up to $775. A four-bedroom unit tops out at $950.
Part of the idea is to create a community no different from the one outside Fellwood’s boundaries. There are young and old, the infirm, the middle class and the struggling.
Michael Walton moved in nearly two years ago. He is proud to show his one-bedroom, 838-square-foot apartment and mentions that with the energy-efficient features, his utility bill is rarely higher than $35 a month.
In the next building over, four students from the Savannah College of Art and Design are sharing a four-bedroom unit. As Walton walks a few hundred feet to check his plots in the organic garden, he greets another neighbor, who introduces himself only as Bernard.
He is a unique man of fashion, dressed head to toe in a pharaoh’s wardrobe of linen and gold lamé, including a headdress and sandals. He is walking toward the recycling station, his basket loaded, but stops along the way to say hello to all he meets.
Walton smiles after Bernard passes. His neighbor has become one more good thing about his new home.
“We have all types,” he said. “It’s all the way from college students to married people to retired couples and singles.”