Historic village’s work recognized by state

Throughout the past few years, the village of Porterdale has worked hard to rebuild its community, addressing issues surrounding vacant, substandard or under-utilized houses and commercial buildings.

Those efforts will be recognized by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which will designate Porterdale a PlanFirst Community for the next three years, beginning Jan. 1.

Brian Johnson, Director of the Office of Planning and Environmental Management for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs sent an email to Village Manager Bob Thomson congratulating the village on the designation.

“Your PlanFirst designation will recognize your community’s hard work and successful comprehensive plan implementation,” he wrote, “and will allow Porterdale to take advantage of various incentives offered through the program.”

Representatives from the DCA visited the village in September and met with the mayor, city council and city manager.

“They looked at the historic gym project, the kayak launch, Yellow River Park and the pocket parks,” said City Manager Bob Thomson. They also looked at “Main Street, the historic preservation, the improved housing stock as a result of the increased activity in code enforcement.”

Many of those projects grew out of the village’s 2012 Urban Renewal Plan, which Thomson said was the result of a community-wide effort by businesses elected officials and community leaders. The project was facilitated and instituted by the Vinson Institute of Government.

After showing Thomson and the city council what had been accomplished, Mayor Arline Chapman told them about the two Porterdale’s — the one inhabited by people who are buying houses to restore, and the other where people are living in poverty and may never be able to own a home.

“We can never turn our back on those people,” she said, referencing the latter group. “How can we help them buy homes?”

One of the ways was to pursue obtaining Community HOME Investment Program (CHIP) funds is a state program that would help the city address the needs of affordable housing development and can be used to provide down payment assistance or homeowner rehabilitation funding to eligible low-income and moderate-income households.

And while economic development was included in the plan, the most immediate issue was bringing housing up to livable standards. That meant enforcing municipal codes. Some houses had fallen into such disrepair, they had to be condemned. Others, many owned by outside landlords, were required to meet standards that made the property livable and safe, including, when needed, installing heat and running water.

At a council meeting this summer, it was announced that the last uninhabitable house in Porterdale met city code standards.

Thomson said that since adopting the plan, the city had met or achieved 80 percent of the objectives and goals set in 2012.

After reviewing all that the city had accomplished, the PlanFirst representatives, Chapman said, “applauded us.”

Porterdale is one of only seven communities that have been designated a PlanFirst Community. In addition to Porterdale, they are Dublin, Columbus, Lula, Roswell and Gwinnett and Liberty counties.

PlanFirst communities are able to take advantage of programs that include:

• statewide recognition for community achievement;

• Annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application eligibility, normally only available every other year;

• access to reduced interest rate on certain Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) state loans; and

• bonus points on applications for DCA programs including Employment Incentive Program (EIP), Downtown Development Revolving Loan Fund (DDRLF) and Redevelopment Fund.

According to Johnson’s email, Porterdale will be recognized across the state as a community “that possesses a vision of its future and maintains an active strategy for implementing that vision.”

Representatives from the DCA will be scheduling a visit to the village before the end of the year to make a public presentation of the designation at an upcoming council meeting.

In 2012, the Village of Porterdale adopted an Urban Redevelopment Plan that identified the need to rebuild infrastructure, such as sewers, in some neighborhoods; adopting municipal and property maintenance codes and developing partnerships with local groups, such as Habitat for Humanity and the Public Housing Authority, to repair homes; create a downtown business district; establish a historic preservation commission; and create enterprise and opportunity zones through a downtown development authority.

The DCA is working on plans for a “Plan First Day” at the Capitol in January. The DCA will officially present the award to Porterdale then.