MACON — Mercer University’s successful efforts to work with the community to revitalize the area around the University’s Macon campus have garnered it yet another national recognition. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has featured Mercer in its publication, out this month, Ideas That Work: Building Communities Through Homeownership, as one of 18 colleges and universities in the country that have had notable success in building homeownership through HUD programs.
The report is available at: http://www.oup.org/files/pubs/ideasthatwork.pdf
“When we began our efforts to help revitalize the area around campus we decided to work with and through the community rather than simply acting as a real estate developer,” said Associate Provost Peter Brown, who has led Mercer’s community revitalization efforts for almost 10 years. “HUD recognized us because we were successful at building partnerships that have been sustainable and finding resources to build the capacity of those partnerships.”
Mercer received a $400,000 grant from HUD in 1999 to begin a Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC), which led to the establishment of the Mercer Center for Community Engagement. The center operated with the understanding that working with the community and building its capacity would be the best method, said Brown. The results have been dramatic as the rental and abandoned property around Mercer has been demolished or refurbished and homeowners have begun to move in. As Brown notes, “Homeowners are the crucial stabilizing influence in revitalizing neighborhoods,”
After it received the HUD grant, Mercer developed partnerships with the city of Macon, the Macon Housing Authority and non-profit community groups, such as Historic Macon Foundation, to help build up homeownership in the neighborhoods around the Macon campus. The University has also helped the effort by providing down-payment incentives for Mercer employees to purchase homes in the area.
From 1996 to 2002, Mercer helped 14 employees purchase homes in the Huguenin Heights area, while 22 buyers purchased homes through partner organizations, and overall home ownership increased from 22 to 66 percent. From 1999 to 2007, Mercer assisted 10 employees with home purchases in the Tattnall Square Heights neighborhood, while 28 buyers purchased homes through partner organizations, increasing home ownership from 20 to 90 percent.
The most ambitious project has been the revitalization of Beall’s Hill, which involved a local housing project being demolished and a 97-unit mixed-income apartment complex being built on the site, with new or rehabilitated single family homes established in the surrounding neighborhood. Beall’s Hill began in 2003 and is picking up steam. Over $30 million have been invested in this project to date. Mercer has helped eight employees purchase homes there, and there is a broad home ownership initiative in progress in the area. Eighteen of the new or rehabilitated single family homes have been sold in the area, with 16 more under construction or for sale. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has strongly supported this Beall’s Hill homeownership initiative with two grants to Mercer totaling $1.4 million and a recent grant to Historic Macon Foundation for $700,000.
About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has 7,300 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; four regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial Health University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.###