Historic Savannah Foundation is pleased to announce our new affordable housing initiative with the first of several projects in the Cuyler-Brownville Historic District. On February 16th, HSF will break ground on our first rehabilitation at 607 W. 39th Street. Donated to HSF in 2020, this modest 864 square foot house presents the Foundation with the opportunity to rehab a house and sell it to a first-time home buyer at an affordable price. HSF will sell the house in partnership with the City of Savannah’s Dream Maker program, which provides qualified applicants with down-payment assistance.
Affordable Housing, or lack thereof, is a growing crisis in many American cities, large and small. One possible solution in Savannah is the use of historic preservation to help increase the number of affordable options. Utilizing the existing stock of vacant houses in Savannah, many of which are smaller historic dwellings, may be the key to providing the much needed housing people are looking for. During a time that cities are scrambling to secure funding to build new units, there is an abundance of pre-existing homes that are sitting vacant. The smaller units by their very nature are inherently more affordable. This is often referred to as “natural occurring affordable housing.”
HSF has been focused on Cuyler-Brownville for the past three years. As reported by the Savannah Morning News in 2019, more than 100 historic buildings have been demolished in the neighborhood since the Historic District was formed in 2003. That is despite being a locally-designated district with municipal ordinances to protect such structures. This is due, in part, to the large number of vacant homes often neglected by absentee owners for years, and which city code enforcement has sought to demolish using court-orders. It is estimated that more than one third of all existing houses in Cuyler Brownville are vacant.
With the loss of so much rich historic fabric, HSF could not stand by and do nothing. Naturally, HSF wanted to utilize its nationally renown Revolving Fund to purchase distressed properties to ensure they are preserved and protected. However, the solution is not as simple as using our standard model. Typically, HSF buys vacant properties, secures them, and sells them as-is to preservation-minded buyers with historic easements in place to protect them in perpetuity. The new buyer then carries out the full rehab with oversight from HSF. The concern is that, even thought this model saves the building, it can inadvertently perpetuate gentrification. HSF and its board want to avoid this by making nearly all such projects in the neighborhood – affordable.
In the case of 607 W. 39th, and the other properties HSF is working on in Cuyler-Brownville, affordability is maintained through covenants which HSF places on each house at the time of sale, and will be enforced for 10 years. Affordability is based on both income and family size. Rental units may not exceed the fair market rents as published by the Federal Housing Urban Development Dept. While additional investment and improvements are sure to follow in Cuyler-Brownville, it is very important to HSF that long-time residents are protected as much as the houses they live in. HSF wants to see the make-up of the neighborhood be maintained as essential to its character.
It is anticipated that the rehab of 607 W. 39th will take 8-10 months to complete. HSF has hired minority-owned business LCLS, Inc and contractor Freddie Lucas to execute the construction. HSF will be abiding by its usual high preservation standard, proving that good preservation can be both quality and affordable. Stay tuned to this blog for more details and updates to this project.