Herman Watson stands in his new neighborhood in Northaven Woods. He lives in a rent-to-own development where Jabari Edwards has built 13 homes. Edwards, who owns the J5 Broaddus firm tasked with managing the city's construction projects, also had the neighborhood's covenants changed to allow for the slightly smaller houses. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
February 16, 2017 11:06:34 AM
For Rhonda King, added security is one of her favorite things about her new home.
King lives with her family in a recently constructed home on Bittersweet Drive. She said she likes her new neighborhood -- especially the peace and quiet.
"My kids' bikes have been right there ever since we moved here," King said with a gesture toward a few bikes in the back of the driveway. "I stayed over in the projects five or six years, and I had to buy them a new bike every year.
"They've got their own rooms, their own yard," she added. "They love it. We all love it."
King moved into the house in July. She said she found out about the homes through a program at the Columbus Housing Authority that seeks to help people become homeowners. Even after entering the program, she was skeptical until the move was upon her.
"I didn't take it serious until probably about the first of June," she said.
King's home is one of 13 that BH Properties, owned by local businessman Jabari Edwards, recently built in the Northaven Woods neighborhood. Edwards said the properties, worth about $120,000 each and $1.5 million as a total development, are the first phase of what he hopes will be continued development across the city.
"Initially I marketed this for traditional development, build-to-suit," Edwards said. "I had it listed with a real estate agent for about a year, but no one bid on it."
Edwards started building the homes in January 2016. He said he's worked with Columbus Housing Authority Director Deborah Taylor to find people who have suitable incomes to move out of public housing and into the homes.
"I met with the Mississippi Home Corporation and created a partnership with the Columbus Housing Authority where we could create some affordable homes," he said. "Everyone will be vetted. These are people with good income that want an opportunity for home ownership."
Columbus Building Official Kenneth Wiegel said the development is the first of its size that has sprouted in the city in about five years.
According to information The Dispatch obtained from Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews the new development could generate nearly $22,000 in tax revenue for the city and county each year. This is based on The Dispatch's estimate of each home bringing an average of between $1,600 and $1,700 in taxes.
The new homes are rent-to-own. Edwards said a portion of the rent each month goes toward a down payment on the home, while a credit counselor from the Mississippi Home Corporation works with the residents toward securing a loan to purchase the homes. Once residents have finished with the credit counselor, they can use a state-run down payment assistance program.
Edwards uses the rent-to-own model so residents can rent, through BH Properties, while working with MHC. Rent on the homes is $650 per month. Edwards said that if a resident leaves while still renting, any money that might have gone toward a down payment is forfeited.
So far, five of the houses are occupied, and Edwards said he's in the early stages of finding occupants for the other eight.
For now, Edwards said he wants to give first priority to people who need assistance with affordable housing. After that, if homes are still vacant, he said they would be available to anyone for outright purchase. Applicants are screened -- including with background checks -- through the Housing Authority before approval.
"You never know who's going to come," he said. "I had one lady that moved from Birmingham who's a retired teacher. She's got the income, got the credit and said she liked the neighborhood. For the most part you have people who have credit issues, but sometimes you have people who are just looking for the house size.
"In a situation like that, we're going to do first come, first served to those needing affordable housing," he said. "Then, of course,if you don't have enough people, you backfill. You really just don't want to create just more rental properties."
Herman Watson lives in another home with his wife, Dianne.
Watson, who works with the Housing Authority, learned of the homes from Taylor, and said he applied soon after.
The home is the first that Watson has worked toward owning. His home is designed with accessibility in mind.
"That's why I'm so fortunate," he said. "It was a blessing to not just be able to get a house but a house built with accommodations. And it's always good to have your own property."
Not all neighborhood residents are happy with the development, though.
Edwards said a neighbor complained to him about neighborhood's covenants after he started building the new homes. The new houses, which are approximately 1,400 square feet, were about 50 to 75 square feet too small to be allowed by the neighborhood's covenants.
Edwards owns 13 lots. Russell Sheffield, a local contractor, owns two more. The combined total gave the two a majority ownership in the subdivision, which allowed adjusting the covenants to fit the new homes.
Also, Edwards owns and operates J5 Broaddus, the firm the city has contracted as its construction project manager.
John Sprouse, who lives near some of the new homes, said he doesn't mind the new neighbors, though he'd like the new homes to be larger.
"If they came in and built the homes as 1,500 square feet, that might have helped my property value some," Sprouse said. "But they bypassed the covenants to do that. That was my only concern. But the people have been nice.
"Those lots have been out here for a long time and nothing had been done," he later added. "I guess that's why they did it."
Danny Williams, a resident in the neighborhood, wrote to The Dispatch last week to voice concerns about the development, including the covenants being changed to fit the new homes, along with increased traffic, noise and lack of doing much to improve property value.
The Dispatch could not reach Williams for additional comments.
Most of the existing homes have an assessed value of $90,000 to $115,000, according to Andrews. He said about 15 percent can be added to the assessed value for market value.
Some neighborhood residents approached Edwards with concerns before he built the homes, he said. However, he noted other rental properties -- Northwood Townhouses -- are close to the neighborhood.
"You can't please everybody," he added. "All you can do is all you can do. But at the end of the day you see it's still quiet."
Still, Edwards said working toward home ownership gives residents "skin in the game," which helps instill pride in their homes and neighborhoods.
"When we talk about blight in communities and crime rate going up, one of the things that helps is when people have ownership," he said. "When people own something, they tend to have more pride."
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