Covington Housing Authority 'not hiding anything' – Covington News

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COVINGTON, Ga. — After city council members said they felt “blindsided” by the Covington Housing Authority’s involvement in a recently proposed development for Conyers Street Gym and Baker Field, Executive Director Shamica Tucker said nothing was being hidden.
The $14 million development proposal was from Alpharetta-based developer John Adams of The Revivalist Guild, on behalf of Covington Historic Places, LLC, which called for the construction of 40 apartments and retail space while preserving the history and integrity of the beloved facility. 
In a Friday, Oct. 16, statement, Covington City Manager Scott Andrews said the city had chosen to decline the proposal, shortly after a news release from Councilwoman Susie Keck stated the Covington Housing Authority had been backing the project and paid $75,000 for architectural renderings — allegedly unbeknownst to the mayor, city council and city manager, Keck said. 
Covington Historic Places is a limited liability company that was created for the Covington Housing Authority.
“Yes, we formed an LLC for this project, because that’s how development works,” Tucker said. “You form a separate LLC because it protects you legally. So of course we did that … If you look it up on the state Secretary of State’s website, you’ll see our mailing address, and it was formed by our attorney [Hillary W. Edgar].”
Tucker also said it was visible to see Covington Housing Authority’s involvement when looking at the request for proposal (RFP) submitted to the city.
Developers submitted an RFP package for two rounds. Round 1, Tucker said, was when much of the “pretty stuff,” such as architectural drawings and renderings of what the proposed development would look like, was submitted.
The Covington News obtained a copy of the RFP submitted in the second round. Within the submission was a cover letter, a single photo of the development, 10 years of financial projections, a list of sources and uses, a timeline for the development, and balance sheets and profit and loss statements for the Covington Housing Authority spanning the last two years.
“Mayor and council was aware of the submission for the gym and field right after [the RFP] was received,” Community Development Director Trey Sanders said. “This was a unique situation in that there was only one submission. Typically, if a large number were received, a committee would have been created to review, select the best options and recommend one to council. A list of all respondents and their quotes would be made available to the mayor and council along with the staff recommendation. Because there was only one response, there was no need for a committee to review and provide recommendations to council.”
He said the initial RFP went straight to the council members. However, it was believed the council had not seen the RFP documents from Round 2.
“I did not know the city council was not aware that we were involved in this project,” Tucker said. “I feel very confident in saying that if they looked at any other responses to RFPs then they’ll see other people forming an LLC as the front of the project. And we were not hiding anything. It’s in there.
“There are no secrets,” she continued. “Why [developers] didn’t put [in the cover letter], ‘We’re doing this on behalf of the Covington Housing Authority,’ is because people have all these wild misconceptions [about the housing authority]. I’ve heard all of these crazy rumors in the last week, including that we were going to build this $14 million building and fill it with homeless people.
“I run a housing authority,” Tucker said. “Yes, I am a public servant, but I’m a business person. And I like my job — I think I’d lose it if I did that.”
Since becoming the housing authority’s executive director in 2017, Tucker said she’s worked “really, really hard” to change how the housing authority and its residents are viewed.
“There are a lot of misconceptions,” she said. “I think most people tend to think nobody over here works, but the truth is, most people over there work.”
Tucker said about 64% of Covington Housing Authority residents either work or were retired. Those that work earn between $10,000 and $38,000 annually. About 25% of residents are disabled. Tucker said less than 2% of residents received public assistance.
Of the housing authority’s total residents, half are adults and half are children.
Tucker said she didn’t make an effort to encourage city officials to take a close look at the RFP or make sure the city knew the Covington Housing Authority was involved, because she felt like it would be unethical to have those conversations with anyone potentially voting to approve or deny the project.
Tucker did say the project was brought up in conversation a few times with city officials, particularly this past weekend when she said Councilwoman Susie Keck called her about who paid for the developer’s renderings.
“At the point when Susie called me this weekend, it still hadn’t been voted on,” Tucker recalled. “But she called and asked me the question, and I answered it. Yes, we paid for it … I was like, ‘Why are you asking me that?’ Because I’m thinking, you know we paid for it. Obviously, we paid for it.”
Tucker said the $75,000 spent on renderings were not HUD funds but instead pulled from the housing authority’s bond account. She also said the housing authority’s board was fully aware of the plans.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what a housing authority is, what a housing authority does and what we can do,” Tucker said. “Some of these questions [from city council members] about who authorized it and why wouldn’t they know if it was authorized. Why would they know? And I don’t mean that in a smart-mouth way or anything, but it’s just that we’re a housing authority. We are separate from the city.”
Plans for the Conyers Street Gym and Baker Field development were going to be similar to the New Leaf Center Apartments, located off Washington Street, owned and operated by the housing authority. There, Tucker said, the rents are “kept reasonable,” but not necessarily subsidized. There is a “nice mix” of people, including young professionals living there, she said.
Three-bedroom apartments listed at 1,500 square-feet would have cost renters $2,025 per month. Two-bedroom options would have ranged from $1,026 to $1,282.50 per month, depending on the square footage. Only two one-bedroom units would have been offered — a 650-square-foot unit located on the “court side” at $877.50 per month and a “bleacher” level, 650-square-foot unit for $942.50 per month.
The development at Conyers Street Gym and Baker Field would have also been another step in silencing the stigma centered around housing authorities, Tucker said. She said part of that process is building attractive homes and apartment units and updating existing properties, all while mindfully branding their properties.
“What I don’t want is for you to ride by anywhere and say, ‘Oh. That’s where the poor people live,’” Tucker said. “Or to look at a resumé and to say, ‘This looks great — oh, wait. They live on Nixon Circle.’ So we’re working on getting rid of that. And going forward, nine times out of 10, we’re not going to stick ‘Covington Housing Authority’ on the front of [a new development] … It wouldn’t make sense to do that. It makes sense to rebrand it and give [residents] a new chance.
“We’ve worked really hard over these last few years to change the image of the housing authority,” she added. “We are an ethical, well-run organization, and we’re run with integrity. We do everything we do with integrity. If they have a question about anything, call me, call one of my board members … Tell me to come to a council meeting to answer questions. Let’s not do this … We’re all working together for this community. Let’s do that without this.
“And come learn about the housing authority,” Tucker concluded. “Be informed. Understand what your housing authority is here for, and what a hosting is and how a housing authority is governed and what a housing authority can do. We’re actually pretty awesome.”

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