COVID-19 money fuels affordable housing boom in Mobile

Mayor sees internal growth working hand in hand with annexation to reverse population slide
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:16 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Fueled by a massive surge in COVID-19 relief funds, the city is kicking off a multimillion-dollar affordable housing binge that will last several years.

It is one part, along with territorial expansion from annexation, of a plan to reverse Mobile’s sliding population.

“We can’t just continue to just keep going to the west without looking at what’s inside the city,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson told FOX10 News.

Stimpson said the city traditionally got about $1.5 million a year in federal funds form the Community Development Block Grant program to preserve and build housing. But with COVID-19 relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act and other sources, that total has swelled to $61 million.

“Some of that has been spent, OK?” he said. “But most of it will be spent on new construction as we go forward. So you’ll see more new construction as compared to the older construction.”

That money is going to three developments:

  • Maryvale Place. The city broke ground in October at the site of former Mae Eanes Middle School on Hurtel Street. The city is contributing $7 million toward the $29 million multi-family development of 96 units. It is slated to open in about two years.
  • Live Oak Trace. Planned for Overlook and Middle Ring roads, the 56 apartment units for low-income seniors will cost about $18 million and will be owned by a nonprofit organization. The city is committing $2.7 million. City officials said the project is expected to be completed in about 2½ years.
  • Single-family houses on Rickarby Street. The city is negotiating a land swap with the Mobile County Public School System and providing $4 million in incentives for private developers to build 26 to 32 single-family houses at the site of the former Woodcock Elementary Street.

All three developments will have income requirements ensuring that low- to moderate-income residents live in them.

The mayor also plans to use COVID money to boost the Infill housing program, which offers incentives for developers to rehabilitate dilapidated housing and build new homes on vacant lots throughout the city.

“The challenge really is finding the property, you know, that’s suitable to put housing on, and then crossing all the hurdles that you have to,” the mayor said.

All this could be good news for people like Tonya Frazier, who is among a handful of remaining residents of Thomas James Place. She said she moved to the public housing complex 20 years ago and has been living among boarded up and abandoned houses. She said it is a difficult environment.

“A lot of a lot of noise, a lot of gunshots, a lot of speeders,” she said. “Getting a lot of noise from the interstate now, the airport and the trains,” she said.

Frazier said she is stuck there, unable to afford rent in a private apartment. She said she has been waiting for a year for the Mobile Housing Authority to issue an emergency relocation voucher to move into subsidized house. She said she hopes she would be eligible for one of the city-sponsored programs.

“With the Section 18 housing voucher that we’re waiting on, that we’ve been promised for quite some time, it’s hard to tell,” she said. “And with the housing shortage and the rent increases, the pays don’t jive with the rent. So I’m wondering what’s gonna happen to us. … I would hope that I would go to a better situation than here.”

The city’s current push for affordable housing comes after a setback Stimpson experienced last year and the City Council voted down his proposal to turn the long-vacant Gayfers department store downtown into affordable housing.

Despite that failure, the Stimpson administration has continued to plug away. City officials have projected that by April 2026, Mobile will have preserved or created 2,244 housing units since May 2020. Already, according to statistics provided by the mayor’s office, that number stands at 1,156, with 250 units under construction and 838 more planned.

“I’m gonna tell you something, it’s a time to be excited, because that’s just leveraging the $61 million. … That’s just the city,” he said. “That’s not what money that maybe the county’s doing, but private developers realizing what the opportunity is in the city of Mobile.”


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