Phase I of the redevelopment of Bethel Midtown Village, in which six of Bethel’s 16 buildings are scheduled for demolition, will begin this fall if an intergovernmental agreement is approved by the mayor and commission at their next voting meeting on August 3.
A large redevelopment project is planned
The North Downtown Athens Project, as the redevelopment is called, will be the largest change to downtown Athens in quite some time. It will reconnect Strong Street and realign several intersections to create a new street grid extending northward from the existing downtown area. When complete, the Athens Housing Authority and other developers will have built an entirely new section of downtown, complete with retail space, a small public park and more housing units than are currently present, both affordable and market-rate.
Bethel currently has 190 affordable units on site and the nearby College and Hoyt community has 32. Most of these are federally-subsidized through Section 8 vouchers, meaning the subsidy level a resident receives rises and falls with their income. All of these units will eventually be demolished and rebuilt, improving quality of life for residents and maintaining each housing voucher, according to Rick Parker, Executive Director of the Athens Housing Authority.
The new and improved Bethel will have triple the current housing density. In addition to the Section 8 units, a roughly equal group of more lightly-subsidized units will be constructed. Finally, a group of market-rate units will also be included. These units will be constructed to identical standards, regardless of subsidy-level, in a manner similar to those at the Columbia-Brookside development completed a few years ago.
The North Downtown Athens Project is funded with $39 million from SPLOST 2020 and a substantial award of federal low-income housing tax credits. Columbia Residential and Jonathan Rose Companies have also provided financial assistance to the project.
What about the people in Bethel Homes right now?
Christina Davis from Columbia Residential presented plans for phase I to the mayor and commission at a work session on July 20.
Davis explained that 27 to 29 households will need to be moved off-site before the demolition of six apartment buildings in phase I can begin. Columbia Residential and the Athens Housing Authority tried to minimize the number of displaced households by purposefully keeping units vacant elsewhere in Bethel as the normal flow of residents opened up some apartments.
These vacant units will be demolished in a future phase, but they’re being renovated for now to keep them habitable over the next few years so people currently living in the phase I area can move in. The renovations are necessary because, unfortunately, Bethel Homes is in an advanced state of decay due to years of neglect by the former landlord.
Those who will move off-site during construction will stay within the Athens Housing Authority’s system and will pay no more for rent than what they’re currently paying. Parker says their moving expenses will be completely paid by the Housing Authority and that they are guaranteed a spot back in the new development once it is complete. Lastly, any children who are forced to relocate during this process will be able to continue to attend their current schools, as Davis explained to commissioners at the work session.
After the commission approves an intergovernmental agreement with the Athens Housing Authority on August 3, demolition of phase I buildings will begin in September at the earliest. Davis says the vertical construction of new buildings can begin in spring of 2022 with their likely completion coming in winter of 2023.
The timeline of future phases has not yet been determined.