Residents upset about a low-income development underway in Martinez are planning to voice their concerns Tuesday at a Columbia County Commission meeting.
Planned within the Magnolia Trace subdivision, off Old Ferry Road, are 50 single-family rental homes subsidized through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
“They came here a year ago and asked the commission for their support on doing some affordable housing for Columbia County,” said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson. “By getting that resolution from the commission, they could then go to the DCA and ask for some assistance in the form of some sort of subsidy.”
Commissioners were not asked to rezone the property since it already was zoned R-3, Johnson said. R-3 zoning is specified for high-density single-family residential development with minimum lot sizes of 7,500 square feet, according to the county’s guidelines.
The parcel has been zoned R-3 since 1979, Johnson said.
The neighborhood will consist of three and four bedroom homes that are between 1,350 to 1,600 square feet, said county Commissioner Trey Allen, according to information he received from the developer, Affordable Equity Partners Inc.
Phone messages left Tuesday and Wednesday for Brian Kimes of Affordable Equity Partners were not immediately returned.
The development cost $9.6 million, with 2 percent of funding coming from housing tax credits, Allen said.
Jennifer McCray, whose home on Butterfield Court is near the site, said she found about the development two days before Thanksgiving after a neighbor passed along a flyer from the developer.
A site plan of the development was displayed on the flyer as were the words “low-income housing,” “tax credit” and “rental,” McCray said.
“They’re going to build these homes and they’re not even going to consider putting a ‘For Sale’ sign in the yard,” she said. “Instead they’re going to put low income, government subsidized families in those homes.”
According to McCray, outrage over the development has spread to people living in neighborhoods as far away as The Pass.
“This affects the entire school system that ... area is zoned for,” McCray said. “The crime rates affect the entire community.
“This has much more far-reaching effects than just my neighborhood.”
McCray and others have made plans to speak at Tuesday’s commission meeting, which is at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Evans Government Center, 630 Ronald Reagan Drive, Evans.
“I look forward to the meeting,” said Commissioner Trey Allen. “I look forward to addressing people and I look forward to trying to clear up any misinformation.”
The development is designed to create affordable housing for working professionals, he said.
Because the development is subsidized through the government, renters can’t make more than $40,000. If a renter qualifies for the housing program, they would pay $455 to $580 each month in rent, Johnson said.
The average salary in Martinez is $33,000 for a police officer and firefighter, $32,000 for a teacher, $29,000 for a paramedic and $28,000 for a practical nurse, Allen said.
In order for people to live there, they must meet several criteria. They must maintain a consistent employment history and credit report, Allen said. Applicants will also be subject to a criminal background check.
Allen, whose office has received about 50 calls regarding Magnolia Trace, said he’s been accused of taking bribes and has also received threats by angry homeowners.
Protestors have also created a Facebook page in opposition of Magnolia Trace.
Many living in subdivisions surrounding the 15-acre property received a flyer letting them know that a Section 8 housing development was being built near them and to call Allen, who represents that area, to stop the project.
Petersburg Station resident Damon Cline said he received such a notice in his mailbox.
“It’s out of character with the neighborhood,” he said. “If it were market-rate apartments, it would be different.
“It just doesn’t seem to me that this is the course that Columbia County wants to go.”
County officials vehemently deny the claim that the development is Section 8 housing, a term Allen doesn’t believe to exist anymore.
While renters using home choice vouchers, known to many as Section 8 housing, cannot be legally denied from living at Magnolia Trace, Allen pointed out that there are about 200 vouchers already being used in the county.
“If they have 50 applicants without vouchers that meet the (requirements), all 50 homes may be rented and not one of them will have a voucher,” he said.
Landscaping as well as upkeep and maintenance of the homes will be provided by the developer, Allen said.
Like McCray and Cline, Jessica Ham worried about the development's possible affect on property values and crime rates.
“Our sense of security is gone knowing now that they’re going to have low-income property back there,” said Ham, whose home backs up to the site.