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City tackles affordable housing
Mayor Richard Davis addresses a recent meeting on affordable housing.

Richmond Hill officials have recognized the lack of affordable housing in the city and are taking steps to get a handle on the price tag of future homes.

"We have police officers and firefighters who defend this city who cannot afford to reside within the city limits," Mayor Richard Davis said. "Affordable housing is a problem that needs to be addressed in Richmond Hill."

City officials have asked the Department of Community Affairs for help. Each year, the DCA helps five small-scale Georgia cities tackle this issue, which seems to coincide with other growing communities. It is a three-year program.

Richmond Hill applied for this aid last year, but was shot down. With the expected influx of military on its way, City Manager Mike Melton hopes to get some help this year, saying the problem is more relevant than ever before.

"We’re at the gates of Fort Stewart, but soldiers can’t afford to live here," Melton said, adding there are 12,000 soldiers slated to arrive in the area next year. "There is some housing on Fort Stewart, but only enough to fit 20 percent of the need. 80 percent is needed in this area. Therefore, I think it is a point of national security that we address this problem now."

Davis said, coupled with the current economic crisis, the lack of affordable housing has a growing potential to become an even bigger problem in the city.

Last month, the city enlisted an "Affordable Housing Task Force" of local residents to present their case to DCA officials. In addition to city officials, enlisted were those representing local banks, realty, media and schools.

The meeting of the two parties concluded with Task Force and DCA members taking a bus tour of city subdivisions, in which Task Force member and Planning and Zoning Director Steve Scholar pointed out how the homes in each area have jumped up in price over the past several years.

How did it get out of hand?

Task Force member and Bryan Bank & Trust officer Brad Brookshire said the answer is simple – the supply and demand response to the sudden popularity of living in Richmond Hill.

"It’s kind a catch-22," Brookshire said. "The reason land is so expensive is because everyone loves this place. A great demand for property drove the land prices up, which in turn drove housing prices up."

Scholar said there doesn’t seem to be available housing in Richmond Hill for anything under $160,000.

Task Force member and realtor April Groves said, once in a long while, a house will become available for under $100,000.

She said they get snatched up in a hurry, which goes to show the overwhelming need for affordable housing. In comparison, she said the more common $200,000 - $500,000 homes are not moving right now.

Melton said the city is looking to the DCA to both help city officials determine what affordable housing actually is for this area and to establish ways to help create more affordable housing.

He said acceptance to the DCA group may also help the city attain grant money to help them tackle the dilemma.

Melton said larger cities have a housing department to help with topics such as this, and, if accepted, the DCA would offer similar assistance. Richmond Hill is one of 10 cities currently in consideration of assistance with affordable housing.

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