2008-08-28 / Front Page

Transformation of Rusher Street gets federal funding to put plan into action

By KIP BURKE news editor

After two years of talking, dreaming, and planning, the plan to transform Rusher Street into a model neighborhood of new owner-occupied homes has just been given a million-dollar go-ahead.

The City of Washington has been awarded $800,000 in federal grants for infrastructure improvements such as new storm water and sewage lines, street paving, and property acquisition, that will lay the groundwork for redeveloping the Rusher Street area.

A second grant of $200,000 will provide help for potential homeowners to finance and build new homes in the target area.

The three-block-long Rusher Street, between Whitehall Street and Hospital Drive, is the home of a handful of proud homeowners, and, unfortunately, too many over- grown lots, dilapidated houses, and abandoned trailers. The plan would allow the city to buy up or condemn abandoned structures, then restructure the streetscape with improved utilities, and finally allow for several new owner-occupied homes to be financed and built.

The Rusher Street renovation is the centerpiece of the multi-year Southwest Washington Redevelopment Plan, which is designed to promote housing redevelopment, promote commercial investment, and clear dilapidated housing in the Whitehall area.

The funding allows the city to go ahead with Phase I of the program, which includes eliminating slum and blight conditions, acquiring property, and demolishing 14 dilapidated structures, City Administrator Mike Eskew said.

The grants approved include $200,000 in Community HOME Investment Program funds. CHIP funds are designed to help communities like Washington increase the supply of safe and affordable housing for low- and moderate-income persons. Potential homeowners will have to put up at least part of the price of the home to qualify for the program and local officials are already identifying qualified local people for the program.

The process has taken nearly two years to get this far. The Washington City Council, along with Mayor Willie Burns, Eskew, City Clerk Debbie Danner, and City Attorney Barry Fleming have met regularly with Christian Lentz and the staff of the CSRA RDC, and have worked with residents of the community taking surveys, holding open houses, and conducting studies.

City leaders and RDC planners came up with five goals: promoting housing redevelopment, improving street utilities, cleaning up dilapidated properties, promoting neighborhood commercial investment; and providing adult education on personal finances, credit counseling, and home ownership.

The Washington City Council has been active putting new ordinances in place to give the city the ability to implement some of the plan, and attendance has been good at neighborhood adult education programs on personal finances, credit counseling, and home ownership.

City leaders will meet in Savannah in September to learn of the special conditions attached to the grants, and based on that information, expect to break ground on the project in early 2009.

The Rusher Street grants were part of nearly $36 million in federal grants from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the state's Community Development Block Grant Program and Community HOME Investment Program (CHIP). "The Community Development Block Grant program provides an essential financial resource to Georgia's smaller communities in their efforts to fund projects that will assist lowand moderate-income citizens. As communities large and small are making tough spending choices, this grant announcement represents an important funding source for various local quality of life, economic development, and job creation programs," said Governor Sonny Perdue.

Nearly $31.7 million allocated for CDBG awards will be used to support projects in 64 Georgia communities. Projects include water and sewer improvements, senior citizen facilities, programs for atrisk children, programs for mentally and physically challenged residents and replacement or rehabilitation of sub-standard and dilapidated housing.

The CDBG program is administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which uses funds allocated through HUD to support local initiatives that focus on improving living conditions and economic opportunities throughout the state.

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