Community leaders in Savannah, Ga., are convinced they have found a workable solution to the problem of displacement of poor people by urban renewal.
Last week before a House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs subcommittee on the city, Leopold Adler, president of the Savannah Landmark Rehabilitation Project, outlined his organization's plan for remodeling the city's so-called Victorian District. This 162 acre neighborhood, with more than 1,200 gingerbread style dwellings, is occupied primarily by poor blacks, 80 per cent of whom rent. Some have lived there 30 years.
The challenge, at the community leaders saw it, was to get rid of the slum landlords - who refused to improve living conditions - without letting all the houses fall into the hands of private developers. An integrated, non-profit group of investment bankers like Adler, social workers and socialities, clergy and residents was formed to buy and rehabilitate the houses.
The group has acquired 80 units, and is about to acquire 125 more. Remodeling of 15 units has already begun, while tenants are temporarily housed in vacant buildings. The ultimate goal is acquisition and rehabilitation of 600 dwellings, at a total cost of $18,000 per unit. Individuals and private developers are expected to rehabilitate the other 600 dwellings for moderate-income families.
Conventional financing, some of it from a minority-owned bank, and public financing, in the form of Section 312 rehabilitation loans and Section 8 rent subsidies, will be used. In theory the rent subsidies will pay back the cost of restoration in eight years or less. Some of the work is being done by 10 men and women hired with grants provided for by the Concentrated Employment Training Act.
Landmark's administrative costs are paid by the National Endowment for the Acts under its Architecture and Environmental Arts program called "Livable Cities." In fiscal 1977, it spent about $2.6 million for city projects like exhibits and planning.
Adler concedes that low-income tenants will probably not be able to afford to buy the restored houses. But they will share control of the non-profit organization owning them. Landmark will maintain a paternal interest in the Victorian District to assure that low-income tenants keep up their properties and are not forced out once the job is completed.
The success of Savannah Landmark stems in part from the prior involvement of Adler and other members in a 16-year, $60 million campaign to restore historic buildings in the central city. The preservation movement initially brought in people with moderate to high incomes. After this downtown revitalization, they turned their attention to adjacent slums.
A related success story in Galveston, Tex., was also told during the committee meeting.
Emily Whiteside, executive director of the Galveston County Cultural Arts Council, said that preservationists are helping bring people back into that Gulf Coast city, which was Texas' principal port in the 19th century.
Restoring the Grand Opera House and the Strand - a commercial strip of facing rows of three-to-five-story masonry structures that was once known as Wall Street of the Southwest - has brought in both private and public funds, she said. Twenty-two apartment units will soon be completed and 21 retail shops and restaurants will be opened by the year, all of which are increasing the tax base she added.