Georgia Initiative for Community Housing touts success, partnerships, solutions

In 2004, the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) was developed with the intent of providing support, partnerships and resources in order for communities to develop housing plans and strategies for the long-term vitality of cities and counties across the state.

In this Q&A, Kristyn Cherry, DCA’s Housing Policy Analyst, and Dr. Jermaine Durham, GICH Director and professor in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, discuss the purpose and goals of this impactful program.

Q: What is the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing?  

A: It is a collaboration between the University of Georgia, Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and the Georgia Municipal Association. We partner with cities around Georgia, about 15 at a time, and walk them through the process of solving housing issues and community-related issues on the local level. We basically bring together a group of local leaders and train them, educate them on housing policy, housing strategies, allow them to network with other communities, and provide facilitation. And this occurs over a three-year period. And communities go through the program, learn about their issues on a local level, and develop plans and strategies for addressing those issues.

Q: What is DCA’s role with GICH?

A: DCA helps supervise the technical assistance through the program and specifically some facilitation to the communities who are participating in the program. We have 12 regional reps on the DCA staff, as well as housing policy analysts and our partners at GMA, Georgia Power, and UGA who serve as facilitators to these communities. We’re paired with a community and remain with them throughout the three years of the program. We facilitate meetings and try to answer any specific questions that they have, but we really stress to them that this is their program. This is their housing plan that they're creating, and we're there to point them in the right direction, shape the conversation around housing, and lend our expertise. DCA is really proud to provide special initiatives to those GICH communities who are participating in the program.

Q: Can you specify those initiatives?

A: A GICH community who's participating in the program, even those who graduate the program and become certified alumni of the program, are able to enjoy some special perks in our housing programs such as Community Home Investment Program (CHIP), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). These are all programs that are very well-known throughout the state, and being a part of the GICH network allows you to receive special consideration on those applications. We are able to commit funds to some communities around the state.  

Q: How do DCA and UGA collaborate on GICH?

A: The UGA and DCA connection goes all the way back to the founding of the GICH program, which was back in 2004. DCA has played a tremendous role with regard to the facilitation, and DCA helps to shape the GICH program as much as UGA does. We have a group of planning committees of members from DCA, UGA, as well as Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). Every month, we meet and talk about the retreat, programmatic changes that may need to be made, and some of the issues that GICH communities and communities in general around the state are facing. DCA provides a very pivotal role not only in incentives they provide, but also with the program itself and how we interact with communities.

Q: Tell us about the 3-year program commitment.   

A: We provide communities with an overview of strategies and some of the DCA programs which can assist with local community development and housing. We try to provide a broad overview. As communities matriculate through the program, they get more and more specific information about their identified, or unique, issue. Some communities are dealing with substandard housing and other communities may be dealing with affordability. After that first year, we try to tailor the information that they receive to the unique issue that they are facing.  Therefore, each community is going to get some specific information but, throughout the program, they will receive generally the same information.

Q: What would be the process to get involved with GICH?

A: UGA hosts the GICH website with information about the program’s history, information and timeline. We also host an annual webinar which walks interested communities through the application. Communities must submit a “Letter of Intent” which will signal their interest in applying and should include a brief narrative of what's going on in your community regarding housing. Next is the application, which is a competitive process. We have lots of communities around the state but can only accept five per year. The application provides step-by-step instructions on what to submit (such as data and your narrative). Your housing team is also important to the success of our GICH communities. Once the application is submitted, our planning team reviews it, and then there's another process of site visits, selection, and obviously, we start doing the work.

Q: What other factors should communities consider when applying to the GICH program?

A: One of the things that we want to understand and be sure of with communities that are getting into the GICH program is that they are aware of the work that's going to take place. It is a three-year program, and it is a tremendous amount of work that communities do. And it is really impressive what a group of local residents, considered citizens, and local leadership are able to accomplish over those three years. We've had some really interesting things that have taken place, some real success stories. But we've also had some communities that have also been not as successful as we would or they would have liked. And that really goes back to really understanding what the program is going to be, making sure that you have the right people in place, people who are dedicated, who are really going to stick with this, not only throughout the three years. Housing teams usually don't see the fruits of their labor until maybe five or 10 years down the road. Three years is really getting a plan of action together. And then the implementation really takes place four or five or six years down the road. But the application process is an opportunity for the housing team that we feel are most prepared to go through this journey.

Q: Why do you think this program has been successful?

A: UGA, DCA, and GMA are really proud of this program. It has really done a lot of great work and we hope to continue to do great work around the state.