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‘Cottage district’ in SoBo?

Residents of the area surrounding the proposed Washington-Coleman Community Center had a chance Thursday evening to ask questions about a project South Boston Town Manager Ted Daniel said could evolve into the “Washington-Coleman Cottage District.”

Daniel and Gail Moody of the Southside Planning District Commission told those gathered for the meeting the town recently had been awarded a planning assistance grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development to initiate the activities needed for the preparation of the Washington-Coleman Housing Improvement Project.

The project, designed to complement the ongoing improvements currently under way in the Washington-Coleman community, will identify several cottage-style houses for rehabilitation on Jefferson Avenue and College Street owned by low to moderate income families.

The project is similar in scope and design to the Church Hill project completed several years ago.

Daniel has estimated the project could cost up to $1 million.

The planning assistance grant provides funding for housing inspections and engineering assessments in the project area with an eye toward future planning grants and community improvement grant funding.

Moody said the role of her group is to gather information and get feedback from people in the community the next couple of months.

“We received a grant to perform income surveys to let us know if there’s interest in a housing rehabilitation project,” said Moody.

If the grant funding is approved and if residents have signed up during the planning process and are interested in their house’s rehabilitation, money would have been designated for each house, according to Moody.

“Then we will take your application and get some basic information, and Earl [Howerton] will come out and do an inspection of your house,” Moody explained.

“He will make a list of items which are his recommendations, and we will give you the list for your approval before we begin the process of bidding out.

“He also will look at individual houses during the planning phase to get an idea of general cost estimates for those people in need and are wanting to participate.”

Homeowners aren’t required to participate, Moody pointed out.

“If we have a lot of people who don’t want to participate, we probably won’t go through with the project, because a neighborhood with 20 houses that need work and if only five or six who are interested, that’s not going to be a fundable project,” she noted. 

South Boston intends to apply for funds through the Community Development Block Grant Program within the next few months and after the surveys have been completed, said Daniel.

One of the four block grants the town has received the past five years was $1,228,409 to help fund the Church Hill Comprehensive Project.

That project included rehabilitation of homes, water, sewer and drainage improvements and the adaptive reuse of the Taylor Building into multi-family apartment units for citizens located in the Church Hill community. 

Six new houses were built, and 15 others were upgraded as a result of the Church Hill project, and from 15-20 houses can possibly be renovated in the proposed Washington-Coleman housing project, he noted.

“There is a great need,” Daniel said.  “The town has put a lot of money into the community center, and people will want to live close by.

“Federal money is available. You can take advantage of programs that help people bring their houses up to current building code standards to improve the situation you’re living in.

“It’s based on need, reasonable need, and you can get some good investments into your house, and depending on your income it’s not going to cost you anything.”

The only thing homeowners are asked in return is not to sell their house for 10 years, a federal government requirement, according to Daniel.

One benefit of the planning assistance grant is to identify neighborhood leaders or “sparkplugs” who serve as a liaison between government and residents.

One such sparkplug for the Church Hill project, identified by Daniel at Thursday’s meeting was William Bouldin.

The majority of questions fielded by Moody and Daniel regarded property rights of homeowners who chose to participate in the program.

“This started off about the same way as the Church Hill project,” said Bouldin.

“There was a lot of concern about who owns what when it was over, but I think we haven’t had any complaints since the (Church Hill) project has been over, and everybody seems to be happy with it,” said Bouldin.

Bouldin has a downtown business right at the Church Hill project, and his home church is in Church Hill.

“It took away all the blighted properties,” Bouldin explained.  “There’s not a blighted house in Church Hill, even though we had about four houses that people did not want to participate in.

“All the other houses which were either rehabbed or rebuilt are still standing and in very good shape. It’s a very good neighborhood, and it’s changed for the better,” Bouldin noted. “We only rebuilt six houses out of 20-something that were worked on.”