A program in Macon-Bibb County that pays the down payment for Macon homes is going to expand. The target is the Bealls Hill neighborhood, a place that used to be downtrodden but is now revitalized. Twenty-thousand dollar down payments are provided as Mercer matches Knight Foundation money. So far since 2007, about a third of the project has been bought with this assistance. Now, Historic Macon wants to expand to other businesses who might match that Knight money. GPB's Michael Caputo talked with Ethiel Garlington of Historic Macon about the effort.
Michael Caputo: Tell me a little bit more about the details of this program. Is there an income threshold with this program?
Ethiel Garlington: Michael there is not an income threshold for our program. The beauty is that the Knight Foundation has given Historic Macon Foundation a grant of Eight hundred thousand dollars and those funds can be used specifically for downpayment assistance. Now luckily in our community, Mercer University has stepped up and matched $400,000 of that they've committed to match. So that means that for each home that a Mercer staff buys they get $10,000 from Mercer and $10,000 from us through the Knight Foundation. Now we've got $400,000 that we need to match locally. If we can take advantage of it? And again that's not income restricted.
Michael Caputo: And does it require the person who might get this assistance to stick around for a while?
Ethiel Garlington: That's a great question obviously we want people to buy these homes and stay in these homes and enjoy life in Bealls Hill and Macon and so with this program it's a five-year repayable loan. So after those five years if you stayed in your house for those five years it's forgiven totally. Now if you leave after year three or two or four, you do you have to pay back a pro-rated amount of that.
Michael Caputo: With the idea of getting another business involved in expanding this, is there any changes (such as) for that forgiveness stipulation. Is there any changes to the program?
Ethiel Garlington: No we're going to keep it the same terms just because it's been so successful for us in the past and that's really what's helped to Mercer. So we're using that model and the success of that program to build and offer it to other corporations, partners, organizations anyone else in town who sees the benefit of this can take advantage of this program.
Michael Caputo: Are there any other businesses may be on the hook that you've got close to saying yes or what?
Ethiel Garlington: We've heard lots of great ideas obviously Navicent Health Center is a logical partner there in the neighborhood in Bealls Hill, they're also our region's largest employer. They have not committed yet but we're hoping that they might consider. Obviously Geico other corporations but then we've got plenty of nonprofit organizations maybe like GPB for instance can take advantage.
Ethiel Garlington: So again it's kind of a wide open opportunity in the way we put it is that you'll double your money and so employers can take advantage of that and offer it as an incentive to their employees in really help with recruitment and retention and that's what Mercer has found with their staff and their program.
Michael Caputo: These kinds of programs, they raise the prices, they raise the value of the homes. Are you worried about gentrification? Is there anything in place to deal with that if that starts to happen to those who have been in the neighborhood for a while?
Ethiel Garlington: That's a great question too. Obviously when we focus on a neighborhood our primary focus when we start is the residents who are there. So everyone who lives in Bealls Hill who wants to stay in Bealls Hill can stay in Bealls Hill. The property values are steadily increasing, which we all want as taxpayers. But there they are not going up exponentially that will drive anyone out of their homes. The other nice thing about our program is that there may be other programs that are offered to residents who are already in the neighborhood and there are wonderful neighborhoods that have taken advantage of this and the residents here in Bealls Hill now really enjoy the neighborhood association and all the new neighbors that they have.
Support for Health, Education, and Poverty reporting on GPB Macon comes from the Peyton Anderson Foundation.