Effect of multifamily housing discussed by council

COVINGTON — Some members of the Covington City Council are hoping that the recent approvals of three apartment complexes, including two that are affordable housing for seniors, will give current residents better housing options. But others are concerned about an influx of new residents and the possible strain it could put on the city’s infrastructure and public safety.

Discussion about multifamily housing came up at the council’s annual retreat, held on Jan. 29 at the Covington Municipal Airport. Covington will soon have three apartment complexes totaling 670 units under construction. The two senior living (affordable housing) complexes, one located on Covington Bypass and the other on Clark Street, will have a total of 320 units, and the Covington Town Center high-end apartment complex will add another 350 units.

Council member Susie Keck noted she had just read an article where Atlanta, which is experiencing a shortage in affordable housing, is now requiring that 20 percent of new apartment complexes be dedicated to affordable housing. She said Covington doesn’t have that shortage, but that could cause another problem.

“We have approved two projects that are 100 percent affordable housing,” she said. “We hope that the people who are currently living (here) in deplorable conditions will move into the affordable housing. But the fear in the public’s eyes is that different people will move in - come from Atlanta, come from wherever - because we have nice affordable housing, increasing the number of people that need services without paying taxes.

“What I see is the potential problem of getting an imbalance in the city,” added Keck. “We need to figure out how to reach the people within the city to move them to the affordable housing projects, and work to get the developers to buy the deplorable places, tear them down, and build anew.”

Mayor Ronnie Johnston agreed, but added that they need to get the community to buy into it also.

“I think it is extremely important that this group, and the city of Covington staff, are in sync with that process, so we know where we’re at with that,” he said. “There are limits. We can’t just demand anything we want. It is a whole strategy on how we’re going to move forward, but I think the discussion in the community - there have been some extreme discussions - this subject is going to be key to how we move forward. I don’t see it as a west/east thing, I see it as a whole community thing… We’re trying to move the agenda forward. We’re trying to get better housing options for everybody.”

Councilman Kenneth Morgan said he believes residents are ready to get on board.

“I think we are doing good as far as changing the mindset of people,” he said. “If you look back 10 or 20 years ago, we were behind the eight ball. Now we’ve got a progressive mayor and council, and I think what has happened over the years, a lot of people that owned property actually dictated to the city what they wanted to take place. I think what is going on now is the city is saying you won’t dictate to us, we’re going to set the pace and dictate what we want in our community. Based on that discussion, I think people are actually buying in. Affordable housing is for everybody.”

Councilman Josh McKelvey suggested the city may need to take a better look at where multifamily complexes can go so that they don’t overwhelm the city’s infrastructure or public safety.

“We need to look at putting a hold on multifamily, another moratorium like we did before, until we can identify what areas of town can handle it,” he said. “What we’re seeing are a massive amount of applications coming in and if you talk to public safety, they say this can create a key change in the city of Covington. It can bring in a bunch of people, and we’re not ready to handle it with our infrastructure and all that. When I hear that from public safety, I’m like, all right, let’s take a look at this and maybe put the brakes on for just a second. For example, we have 55 and older (apartments) coming in. Maybe we say they would work well over here, but not over there. Maybe we have a conversation about fine tuning our ordinances for multifamily.”

The council had earlier given staff approval to start working on updating city ordinances related to development regulations and zoning. Johnston said if the updates can be done quickly and efficiently, that could have the same effect as a moratorium without the negative connotation.

“We can do better,” he said. “That’s all I’m saying. It is what it is, but we can be better. Right now we have varying types of investment coming into our community. For us to go to them and say ‘No’ is insane right now.”

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Born and raised in Decatur, Ga. Graduated from Shorter College in Rome, Ga. in 1979 with B.A. in Communications. Worked in community newspapers for 25 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.