SCAD’s purchase of former apartment building highlights need for affordable housing

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah’s College of Art and Design is now the new owner of a former low-income apartment building.

Chatham Apartments, located near downtown Savannah on Abercorn Street, was once home to more than 200 tenants. It was one of the city’s largest low-income housing buildings for elderly and disabled people.

“It’s a pity more than anything, it’s just a shame, it’s moving our efforts backward,” said John Neely with the Chatham County Housing Coalition.

QR Capital, an Atlanta-based firm, bought the building in December 2019. News 3 spoke then to residents who were worried about what’s next.

“People are scared to death because they checked around and there’s like a four-year waiting list at most of the places so they are afraid they are not going to have anywhere to go,” said David Yates, a former tenant, “and afraid they’ll be put out on the street.”

A SCAD spokesperson says they plan to turn the building into student housing, issuing this statement:

SCAD can confirm the recent purchase of 609 Abercorn from Atlanta based QR Capital. The building was vacant at the time of purchase and is an opportunity for SCAD to provide additional options for student housing. We look forward to completing the renovation of the historic midcentury high-rise, and will provide further details on our plans for the property in the near future.”

Mayor Van Johnson commented on the recent purchase in his weekly media briefing.

“This is an opportunity to provide housing for their students, so I’m not mad at them for doing that,” said Johnson.

“They made a business decision,” he added.

Johnson says while he understands the purchase, it only further highlights the need for more affordable housing.

“We have made decisions to view every property we have on our register, every large property from an affordable housing lens,” said Johnson.

A budget report shows in 2019, the city completed 103 affordable housing units. The report says this year, they hope to add another 150 units.

Johnson created a housing task force of more than 40 people back in July. Neely, who chairs the cost and production sub-committee, says the city should be building two to three times the number of units, in order to keep up with the growing need for affordable living.

“Sometimes it might require city funding of one kind or another, or county funding perhaps,” he said. “Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, the federal program administered through the state, is certainly critical.”

Neely says Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC, is not the easiest funding to get.

“Communities all over Georgia want those funds, so it’s a very competitive process,” he said.

Neely says the biggest obstacles will be funding and finding ways to lower construction costs.

“The city’s housing and neighborhood services department has looked extensively into the idea of a modular plant in Savannah that sort of prefabs units of a house and assembles them in place walls, ceilings, etc.,” said Neely.

Neely, who has a background in commercial real estate, says a modular plant approach could lower construction costs by more than a quarter.

“We’ve just got to get more units per year built that accommodate folks like this and low and modest wage workers,” he said.

WSAV reached out to QR Capital for comment on whether the residents were given any kind of assistance before being forced out. We have not heard back.

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