COVID relief funds proposed for Savannah housing initiatives

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 4:40 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Housing Savannah Task force’s findings from earlier this year shows 40 percent of families can’t afford what the group calls “quality housing.”

Another data point showed families are spending a third of their income each year on it. Now, we’re learning about possible solutions the city is looking to fund next year that will help Savannahians find affordable housing.

American Rescue Plan funds will play a huge part when it comes to tackling the affordable housing issues Savannah faces.

And the recommended 2022 budget looks to accommodate what the city calls a historic investment of $19-million in initiatives to address homelessness and housing. $7-million of rescue plan dollars will go toward the Savannah Affordable Housing Fund.

“This is really the central, key funding mechanism that we’re able to fund and subsidize affordable housing across many different types of modalities in the City of Savannah,” said Savannah City Manager Jay Melder.

Melder calls the $7-million investment of federal funds a down payment on the Housing Savannah Task Force plan. The City Manager adds the overall investment will, in part, boost the creation of more affordable housing and preserve what’s already out there.

Another feature of next year’s fiscal budget is raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour. That will come out of the city’s general fund, with some help from ARPA funding, according to Mayor Van Johnson. The Mayor explained how the pay increases would be implemented.

“And so half of our employees will be in January, the other half will be in July. But again, it’s a significant investment in our most precious resource, which is our employees. Those that you see that are picking up trash, those that you see that are fighting fires, those that you see that are patrolling your neighborhoods, those that you see that are taking on your water bills,” said Mayor Johnson.

The City is also looking to bolster sanitation operations by budgeting for 29 new positions in the department and $6.7 million in funding.

Mayor Johnson said, “We make a commitment to our citizens that we’re going to provide high quality services on time. Your trash needs to be picked up on time. Your recycling needs to be picked up on time. Your streets should be free from litter.”

Public Safety investments

Nearly $9 million of the proposed 2022 budget includes improvements to public safety buildings, like $6.5 million dollars in renovations to the historic Savannah Police Headquarters.

Police Chief Roy Minter called the planned funding for his department’s needs a huge show of support from Savannah City Council members.

“We went into this budget really looking at how we could continue to enhance our community-based initiatives, but also continue to enhance our technology capability.”

Technology upgrades SPD stands to gain should the budget pass include enhancing body worn cameras and expanding ShotSpotter technology around the city.

On the community-based policing side, Chief Minter said, “You see funding to continue our Savannah Impact Program, to fund our new, or to bring the Police Athletic League and activities league back. Also, for our Cure Violence Global initiative with our violence interrupters.”

For Savannah Fire, $4.5 million dollars will go toward buying new fire trucks and equipment. Budget funding is also set aside for a new fire house in a rapidly growing part of the city in the southwest part of Chatham County.

“And actually we’re looking at it as a public safety facility for a fire station with a police presence as well in that same building, is what we’re proposing. So we’ll see how that comes to fruition,” said Savannah Fire Chief Derik Minard.

The Chief Minard said that will ultimately lead to better and more equal fire coverage throughout the City.

City Council is expected to vote on adopting the 2022 budget at next weeks Council meeting.

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