Developer moving forward with affordable housing plans|[04/11/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 11, 2008

City has turned over three properties to Roy Choates

An Atlanta developer could help soothe Vicksburg’s troubled housing market if his plans to build affordable housing on land handed over to him by the city please officials.

A resolution approved by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen has allowed the city to declare at least three properties surplus and pass them on to Roy Choates, a developer who was ironing out plans to build houses in the $110,000 to $160,000 price range. Choates heads a company called Pinnacle Marketing Group and has, for 35 years, worked in construction.

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Two houses will be built on vacant lots along Pearl Street. Another house will be built on Starlight Drive in the Enchanted Hills subdivision. Choates intends for these houses to provide only a taste of the multitude of affordable homes he will bring to the River City, he indicated.

“What the mayor wants is to have an oasis where things have been right and have that be a catalyst,” he said.

The agreement to convey property to people in the private sector is based on a recently passed state law that allows municipalities to sell, lease, donate or convey property to any person or legal entity, City Attorney Nancy Thomas said. The property may be handed over without public notice if the property is acquired by the city through a tax sale or because the property is abandoned or satisfies a municipal lien, the law states.

Choates’ interest in Vicksburg was piqued about a year ago when friend Larry Erves, a Vicksburg native and developer, told him about the potential for growth in his hometown.

“I’ve seen the progress the mayor has made in the town,” Erves said. “When I come back home, I see it. I see the difference he’s made.”

About a month ago, Choates met with Mayor Laurence Leyens to discuss options of bringing affordable housing to Vicksburg. At that meeting, a “stringent” schedule was developed to make sure results could be seen within the next year, Choates said. Construction on the first set of houses is expected to begin in June and completed three months later.

His plan is to build about four affordable housing models, which will be trimmed with “lots of goodies,” such as wooden floors, on the property handed over to him.

If city officials are pleased with the results, Choates will, then, begin building about 13 houses off Mission 66 and another 13 off Alcorn Drive near Rolling Acres, one of five areas managed by the Vicksburg Housing Authority. In an effort to beef up housing, Leyens has said the city could possibly provide infrastructure, such as access streets, to the areas where houses will be placed. Resolving the shortage of low- to moderate-income housing is one thing that he hopes will appeal to people who commute from surrounding areas and will, hopefully, lure more shopping opportunties.

“With new roofs, we will be able to drive the retail segment,” Leyens said.

Choates, Leyens said, is one of hundreds of developers he has met with to provide affordable housing. Leyens said he has four other developers interested in following in Choates’ footsteps. But Choates’ quick turnaround on plans and aggressive time line has moved him to the “top of the list,” Leyens said.

“He has done everything he said he would do,” he said.

Instead of the city having to mow grass on the vacant lots, Leyens said the land should be taxable, maintained by the private sector and, in this case, used to fill a void the area has been feeling for years.

“We have a tremendous housing shortage. Too many people are renting — something like 58 percent,” he said. Choates is “not building a significant number to make a dent — yet. He’s the first who’s heard the cry and saw the opportunity and has come to the table in a meaningful way.”

Choates said he feels like his plan, which will provide homes for people who earn between $10 and $15 an hour, can fill the void. And Leyens’ vision, backed by the support of other city officials, will be a driving force.

“When I met with (Leyens) the first time, he was candid, upfront and to the point,” Choates said. “It became apparent to me that he would do everything in his power to accommodate affordable housing.”