When it comes to identifying the issue that prompted the 400-member Middle Georgia Association of REALTORS® (MGAR) to host a public forum on affordable housing last December, the simple answer, says Arizona White, Chair of the association’s Affordable Housing Committee, is that “There is so much need!”
The need for information, education, employment and for focused attention on all issues of poverty as they correlate to access to fair and affordable housing was clear to the committee, says White. With a poverty level near 23.5% in Macon-Bibb County, she explains, the resulting cycle of blight, crime and hopelessness affects the entire community. MGAR decided to take the ambitious step of addressing all the issues under one roof in a single three-day span, with a goal of connecting Macon residents to available resources, and building collaborative partnerships to tackle targeted challenges. Qualifying as a Fair Housing Partnership Project, the forum received $5,000 from the REALTOR® Party’s Diversity Initiatives Grant program, and was presented jointly by MGAR and key local agencies, government officials and the local newspaper as “Macon A Better Community: The ABC’s of Transforming a Community through Empowerment and Collaboration.”
The forum took place in early December 2015, on the campus of Wesleyan College. Free and open to the public, it drew more than 150 participants on each of the three days, with session topics ranging from entrepreneurship and community development to career and college planning; a local jobs fair; and workshops for homeowners, homebuyers and senior citizens. For real estate professionals, there were sessions on helping clients to prevent foreclosure and grant programs available to first-time home-buyers.
A special invitation-only “Collaboration, Community and Commitment” session was moderated by Dr. James Beverly, a local representative to the Georgia State House who was instrumental in developing the forum. Bringing legislators, community leaders and various local agencies together to formulate action plans addressing critical needs within the community, this is where big strides were made, says White.
One of the major issues discussed, for example, was the fact that nearly 300 homes in Macon have no working indoor plumbing; before the close of the session, MGAR and the Macon Water Authority had stepped forward and formed a partnership to address the issue. “If you think about all the implications associated with the simple lack of running water, from healthcare to education,” White points out, “and multiply that by 300, it’s huge. So we’ve worked out a plan to elevate that level of basic sanitation in Macon, which will bring the whole community up with it.” The first step, already underway, is to identify the owners of all the properties in question; then, the partnership will work with plumbing companies to have indoor plumbing either repaired or installed.
In matters of plumbing and beyond, momentum created by the forum has been strong, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with many participants congratulating MGAR and its partners on offering opportunities to do more than just talk about the issues. In engaging its city in facing the many facets of blight and poverty head-on, the association is clearly a significant part of the solution.
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Middle Georgia are taking the lead to help their community improve access to safe, fair and affordable housing, contact Arizona White, the Middle Georgia Association of REALTORS®‘ Affordable Housing Committee Chair, at 478-972-0517, or Association Executive Sandy Davis, at 478-471-7336.