LHA closes on Lucy Morgan Homes renovation

Published 8:34 pm Thursday, November 29, 2018

On Thursday, the LaGrange Housing Authority signed the last document necessary to perform just over $9.2 million in renovations to the Lucy Morgan Homes.

Actual construction on the buildings is expected to begin in January, and according to information released by the housing authority, $82,000 will be spent on remodeling each of Lucy Morgan’s 182 units. According to Zsa Zsa Heard, the CEO of the LaGrange Housing Authority, some outdoor work may begin in December, but residents of the first 85 units slated for renovations will not have to relocate to available units at the Benjamin Harvey Hill Homes until January.

“Residents will not move until January because we don’t want to disrupt their holiday, so they will begin to move to the Benjamin Harvey Hill property in January,” Heard said. “They will go there. They will stay there until the new units are completed, and they will return to their new units. We are very, very excited about that.”

Longtime residents of the homes said that they were excited to see how the renovations turnout.

“It’s been a long time coming, and we’re excited about the future,” said Joan Hurston, a resident of the Lucy Morgan Homes. “As a resident for 16 years, I’ve been a part of this community. … It makes me feel excited and makes me feel like a part of a community that is moving forward.”

According to Heard, residents were consulted to help the LaGrange Housing Authority decide on some of the details of the renovations.

“They were able to be in that process,” Heard said. “They were able to pick out some of the things that they like, things that they wanted in their units, and something that we are really proud of is every unit will have two bathrooms.”

Hurston said that she looks forward to handicap-accessible features in the renovated units, and other residents said the renovation makes them feel like are cared for.

“It makes me feel good, and it makes me proud to live here,” said Drucilla Irvin, a resident of the Lucy Morgan Homes. “They are doing what they said they were going to do. … I appreciate everything they’ve done, and I hope that they keep up the good work.”

The resident’s moving expenses will be covered as part of the project, but some residents were still a little nervous about all of the changes.

“I think most of us are kind of frightened because of the moving that we have to do, but all in all, I believe once this is completed and everything is done, I think everyone will be pleased,” Hurston said. “I believe everyone is going to be happy as the end result.”

Hurston said that the LaGrange Housing Authority staff has worked with residents every step of the way to explain what is going on and alleviate concerns as much as possible.

According to Heard, part of the reason for the renovation was to encourage residents to strive for more.

“This encourages our residents to go back to school, get a job that they like to do. We want this to encourage them,” Heard said.

“Once you put some skin in the game, we believe it is more value to you. You are going to be taken care of, and we want you in a healthy living environment, in healthy living conditions. That is what we are going to do here.”

Heard said that some of the residents of Lucy Morgan plan to move to other apartments or homes instead of temporarily relocating to the Benjamin Harvey Hill Homes, and she said that she is especially proud of residents who have chosen to take the move as an opportunity to purchase their own home.

Residents were not the only ones excited to hear that the renovations will move forward . LaGrange Housing Authority board members, LaGrange City Council Members and community shareholders also joined in the celebration.

“This is very needed for our community, particularly here at Lucy Morgan and looking forward to the next phase, as we move into Benjamin Harvey Hill and Phoenix Landing projects,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “This is really going to transform this Lucy Morgan property. It is long overdue, and $82,000 per unit is really going to improve the quality of life for the residents. We talk about it in terms of the money that is being invested, but at the end of the day, it is really about improving the quality of life of the residents of this property.”

Members of the housing authority team said that they looked forward to the impact that the renovations will have on the area.

“To the residents, this is a great opportunity,” said Michael Jackson, the LaGrange Housing Authority commission chairman. “It is going to be beautiful. It is going to be a transition. It is not easy to transition, but we are going to try to make it easier by supporting you as we transition from Benjamin Harvey Hill back to Lucy Morgan. Names are going to be changing. The environment will be changing.”

The project will be completed in two phases, and the LaGrange Housing Authority is also planning to demolish and rebuild the Benjamin Harvey Hill Homes in 2019.

Heard said that ideally, they would have been allowed to rebuild both developments, but their funding and the terms of grant funding dictated otherwise.

“We did a 4 percent tax credit deal, so we are hoping to get 9 percent so that we can demolish some of the buildings,” Heard said. “The 500 building, it will be demolished. It will no longer be on the property. We are going to have some greenspace, so that greenspace will have some room. We are going to get a new playground here on the property.”

She said that she expects the process for the Benjamin Harvey Hill Homes and the planned Phoenix Landing to move more quickly because of the housing authority’s experience at Lucy Morgan. However, she said the time and commitment only gave them more reason to celebrate.

“The board thought it would be appropriate that we have a celebration because we’ve been [working on] this particular deal since 2015,” Heard said. “[There were] a lot of kinks in the process, but now that we’ve figured it out, the next deals are going to go a little faster because we are also going to close on Benjamin Harvey Hill at the end of December.”

According to the Troup County Archives, Lucy Morgan Homes opened in 1953. This will be the largest renovation in the development’s history, and when it is completed, the development will be very different.

“Once the residents come back to their 85 units, those units are no longer public housing units,” Heard said. “We are trying to come out of the public housing business so that we can form public and private partnerships to continue development, but now they will be energy efficient apartments, where they will save on their utilities.”