COVID-19 money fuels affordable housing boom in Mobile

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Fueled by a massive increase in COVID-19 relief funds, the city is embarking on a multi-million dollar affordable housing bust that will last several years.

It is part, along with land expansion from annexation, of a plan to reverse Mobile’s population slide.

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

Stimpson said the city has traditionally gotten about $1.5 million a year in federal funds from 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 risen to $61 million.

“Some of it was spent, okay?” he said “But most of it will be spent on new construction as we move forward. So you’ll see more new construction compared to old construction.”

That money goes to three developments:

  • Maryvale Place. The city broke ground in October on the site of the former Mae Eanes High School on Hurtel Street. The city is contributing $7 million to the $29 million, 96-unit multifamily development. It is scheduled to open in about two years.
  • Live Oak Trace. Planned for Overlook and Middle Ring roads, the 56 apartments for low-income seniors will cost about $18 million and be owned by a nonprofit organization. The city is committing $2.7 million. Municipal officials indicated that the project will be completed in about two and a half years.
  • Single Family Homes on Rickarby Street. The city is negotiating a land swap with the Mobile County Public School system and is offering $4 million in incentives for private developers to build 26 to 32 single-family homes on the site of the former Woodcock Elementary Street.
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The three developments will have income requirements to ensure that low or moderate income residents live in them.

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

“The challenge really is to find the property, you know, that is suitable to put a house on, and then cross all the hurdles that have to be done,” the mayor said.

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

“Lots of noise, lots of shots, lots of accelerators,” he said. “Now it’s getting a lot of noise from the interstate, the airport and the trains,” he said.

Frazier said she is stuck there, unable to pay rent on a private apartment. She said she has been waiting a year for the Mobile Housing Authority to issue an emergency relocation voucher to move into subsidized housing. She said she hopes to qualify for one of the city-sponsored programs.

“With the Section 18 housing voucher that we’re waiting for, which we’ve been promised for quite some time, it’s hard to say,” he said. “And with the housing shortage and the increase in rent, salaries do not match the rent. So I’m wondering what’s going to happen to us. … I would hope to go to a better situation than here.”

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The city’s current push for affordable housing comes after Stimpson suffered a setback last year when the City Council rejected his proposal to convert the long-vacant Gayfers department store into affordable housing.

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

“I’ll tell you something, it’s a time to be excited, because that’s just taking advantage of the $61 million. … That’s just the city,” he said. “It’s not the money that maybe the council is making, but the private developers who realize what the opportunity is in the city of Mobile.”

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