SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Thursday morning Savannah Mayor Van Johnson held a news conference at City Hall to announce the creation of the Housing Savannah task force.
City officials say the task force will guide the development of an affordable housing policy for the Hostess City.
“Savannah cannot be too expensive for Savannahians,” said Johnson.
The task force’s goal is to ensure residents have budget-friendly options for permanent housing.
City data shows more than 42% of Savannah’s families struggle to pay their housing costs. Johnson says for years we put tourism first but, now it’s time to invest in our neighborhoods
“We want all Savannahians to have the opportunity to live in quality, affordable homes in our City,” the mayor said. “Neighborhoods are the cornerstone of the community in Savannah. A new policy to make home renting and ownership more cost-effective will provide stability for individuals and families, and in turn, strengthen our community.”
Johnson says the work is already underway. On Thursday, the council identified the old code compliance building on Drayton Street as surplus property for affordable housing.
Some task force members, however, do worry they could run into funding issues down the line.
“I’ve identified about 10 funding sources that other cities and states use and the answer I’ve gotten locally is we can’t do that,” said Dr. Kenneth Zapp, Professor Emeritus at Metropolitan State University.
Housing and Neighborhood Services Director Martin Fretty says even though the city has an affordable housing fund it still needs more local money. He says the city puts in about $150,000 a year and his staff raises about $80,000.
Fretty says because federal grants are getting cut every year and often come with strings attached the task force will need to seek out more funding.
“It limits what we can do to try to address the needs of our citizens,” said Fretty, “and you know in Savannah any household making less than 50 thousand bucks a year according to census data is likely to be cost-burdened.”
Johnson says creating a task force like this one is the city admitting it doesn’t have all the answers. He said they should have their first meeting within the next week.