Savannah Housing Authority looks to demolish Yamacraw Village

ByBria Bolden,Jessica Savage,andSean Evans|May 18, 2021 at 6:01 PM EDT - Updated May 18 at 6:39 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Savannah Housing Authority is looking into asking federal officials for permission to demolish one of the city’s biggest and oldest low-income housing developments.

The Housing Authority of Savannah says they got an assessment done on the property, and that survey found that it would take $40 million to bring Yamacraw Village up to current affordable housing standards. The executive director says that makes it eligible for HUD to consider demolishing it.

Yamacraw Village was built 1940. It is the Housing Authority of Savannah’s oldest property in their portfolio. They say in the last 80 years housing needs and standards have changed.

“Yamacraw’s first residents moved in in 1941. 80 years ago, so that is what’s happening over 80 years, this style of housing has changed, the size of bedrooms and other living spaces have changed,” Housing Authority of Savannah Executive Director Earline Davis said.

One former resident says instead of submitting an application for demolition approval, she would like to see them reinvest in this community. She says she lived here for 20 years and it made a huge impact on her life.

“My main word to everybody is love. If we show commitment, dedication and credibility, this place would not look like what it looks now,” former resident Brenda Johnson Curtis said. ‘They stopped loving on the residents. They allowed this place to fall down.”

Curtis lived in Yamacraw Village for 20 years.

The Housing Authority of Savannah says they plan to submit that application to HUD by late summer or early fall. They also say they will rehouse residents.

Yamacraw Village’s continuously low housing condition scores play a big part in why a demolition is being proposed. Records show Yamacraw Village is one of the worst-ranked public housing complexes in Georgia.

According to a WTOC Investigates analysis, the housing conditions at Yamacraw Village have continuously ranked among the bottom tier for years.

In 2018, Yamacraw Village received the lowest score in Georgia when inspectors gave it a score of 25 out of 100 points.

Inspectors are with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development also known as HUD. HUD oversees federal funding and inspections for all public housing in the U.S.

The conditions at Yamacraw Village are considered marginal and rank in the bottom 17 percent for public housing in the nation.

A copy of the 2018 inspection shows many of the point deductions came from overgrown vegetation, excessive graffiti, broken playground equipment and erosion that had the potential to damage the building foundations.

A more recent inspection from 2019 shows Yamacraw has scored as high as 54 points, which still ranks among the lowest for public housing conditions in Georgia.

In Savannah, three other public housing complexes have routinely scored low and require annual inspections - Horace Stillwell Towers, Simon Frazier Homes & Herbert Kayton Homes and Pickens Patterson Terr & Single Family Homes.

Public Housing Physical Inspection Scores are issued out of a possible 100 points by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. Housing with scores below 80 require annual inspections and are noted in red below.

City Council tours Savannah’s affordable housing sites

But Yamacraw Village is not the only property Savannah leaders are looking at. On Tuesday, May 18, Savannah City Council members and staff embarked on a several-hour long tour of the city’s workforce and affordable housing network.

City leaders stopped at multiple locations around Savannah for the housing workshop, to learn more about plans, some already underway, to increase opportunities for residents to purchase their own homes.

Council members got to see firsthand how a development, The Cottages at Savannah Gardens, is growing one home at a time on Savannah’s east side.

“Finally, to get this mobile workshop underway and see the real progress on some of our huge targets and goals as a council, including affordable housing,” District 4 Alderman Nick Palumbo said.

While city leaders were on site Tuesday, they got to see a future home put together one half at a time.

“In this case, we’re using a modular technique to be able to create affordable housing for our residents. It’s one thing when you see the end result, it’s something different when you see the hard work that it takes to make it happen,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

According to Martin Fretty, Savannah’s Housing and Neighborhood Service director, the modular technique means these homes are manufactured elsewhere to about 80 percent completion, then brought to their destination to be completed.

“Hopefully, we’ll look to open a plant in Savannah that’s non-profit owned and operated that could actually reduce the cost of housing. Because instead of putting profits into shareholders pockets, that can go to reducing the cost of housing or generate revenue for the Savannah Affordable Housing Fund,” Fretty said.

These homes sell for tens of thousands below the current median home value in Savannah. As more get added, city leaders say so do more opportunities for working families to become homeowners.

“That is the ultimate ladder to the middle class. It is the investment that we want to see. You have your own castle, and every Savannahian should have a right to own their own home and have their own castle,” Alderman Palumbo said.

The mobile tour ended on Cumming Street on Savannah’s west side where several condemned houses were demolished, with affordable new homes put in their place.

In the coming months, there will eventually be 11 of these modular homes put at the site on the east side of Savannah.

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Photo: WTOC

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