Housing project

South Boston Town Manager Tom Raab and Southside Outreach Group Executive Director Earl Howerton present details about the proposed Poplar Creek Homes Project during a public hearing and community meeting on Tuesday at the Washington-Coleman Community Center.

An initial public hearing and community meeting on proposed block grant funding for the Poplar Creek Homes project held at Washington-Coleman Community Center on Tuesday produced little in the way of public comment.

A small but interested group that braved a cold and rainy night had the benefit of presentations outlining the proposed project, which includes rental and special needs housing.

Southside Outreach Group (SOG) Executive Director Earl Howerton and South Boston Town Manager Tom Raab unveiled details of the project, which will include rental housing, veterans housing and special needs housing with accessibility features.

The most urgent need is for rental housing, Howerton and Raab agreed.

“There are a lot of folks who can’t afford to be a homeowner,” said Howerton.

The initial proposal involves building five to 10 two-story, three bedroom single-family houses for first time homebuyers, and plans also include building 10 to 15 two-story duplexes with two-three bedrooms for rental, all on Poplar Creek Street in South Boston.

Amenities include washer/dryers and dishwashers.

A community center housing a 24-hour day care facility is planned for the second phase of the project, which also may include construction of up to 10 additional units, according to Raab.

There is a need for 24-hour childcare, Raab explained, particularly if both parents work the same shift or if a single parent can’t get the help he or she needs to watch their child, while they are working.

Tri-County Community Action Agency may be called upon to operate the childcare facility, Howerton explained, and a workforce investment component is also sought for the project with the assistance of Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, with a focus on producing certified contractors.

“We’re running out of contractors, and we have a lot of houses we need to rehab for low-to-moderate income families,” said Howerton.

Southside Outreach Group serves 15 counties, and the number of pre-qualified contractors on staff has shrunk from 20 to 30 in 2006 to about five, Howerton estimated.

A number of funding sources are being sought to help with expenses for the project, including a Community Development Block Grant, low-income housing tax credits from Virginia Housing Development Authority, pre-development funds from Southside Outreach Group and the Affordable and Special Needs Housing Program.

The town of South Boston is providing the land for construction of the units.

Public input and participation is vital for the project to come to fruition, according to Howerton.

“We want to get citizens’ input and participation, because we don’t want to build what we want, we want to build what the public needs,” Howerton explained.

Plans call for the units to be built beside and behind two energy efficient “eco-mod” homes already located along Poplar Creek Street, on four acres across the street from Miller Homes.

Similar to its home ownership projects, prospective renters would still have to go through a vetting process in order to qualify for residing in one of the apartments, according to Howerton.

An architect and an engineer have been hired with the help of a $30,000 planning grant requested and received by South Boston, but no date has been set for beginning of construction.

The architect is doing a rendering of a 6,000-square foot, two-story building at the site containing a workforce assessment center and day care on first floor and possible apartments on second floor, the executive director noted.

Plans call for the apartments to be energy-efficient perhaps with the use of solar power, according to Howerton.

Work with the planning grant is anticipated to be complete by the end of the year putting South Boston in position to apply for a larger grant of up to $700,000 through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development earmarked for infrastructure, Howerton explained.

Southside Outreach Group is responsible for a number of affordable housing projects throughout South Boston, including coordination of the Sunnybrooke Housing Production Project with 22 homes on Myrtle Street in South Boston.

That project won the Best Housing Award at the Governor’s Housing Conference in 2006.

A second information session is planned for the March 4 meeting of South Boston Town Council.

Doug Ford reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.