Offer made on 400 Building, but GHA still weighing options

Gainesville Housing Authority Executive Director Pamela Davis speaks during a meeting on the future of the 400 Building at the GHA Building Thursday.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 6:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 6:24 p.m.

The Gainesville Housing Authority still is weighing its options on the fate of its 400 Building.

It faces financial problems with the property that include a $1.2 million payment to M&S Bank on a mortgage loan with a due date that was extended to November and might be extended again for another 90 days.

At a Thursday meeting, the GHA board decided to delay its decision on a potential $1.7 million offer it received Wednesday from James Carmichael of Housing Preservation Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on preserving affordable housing.

Carmichael sent a letter of intent that expressed his interest in buying the building, which sits on Northwest First Avenue just west of downtown, and continuing to offer affordable housing there for the next 20 years, GHA Executive Director Pamela Davis said at the meeting. She said she was excited about the deal because it would have the least impact on residents.

When Linda Williams, a 65-year-old resident of the 400 Building, heard about the offer as she sat in on the meeting with about 15 others, she said "yes" and slipped her fingers beneath her glasses to wipe her eyes.

Williams, who receives disability assistance, has lived in the building for the past five years and stayed there for a while before that as well. Like other residents, she is worried about whether she can afford to live there if the building is sold to a new owner who raises rates.

"It sounded like something I was hoping they would jump on," she said of Carmichael's tentative offer.

But the board didn't. Instead, it will tell Carmichael it is interested in the offer but needs more time to make a decision. Carmichael had requested a response by Friday.

GHA Commissioner Evelyn Foxx cautioned against moving too quickly.

At her suggestion, the board decided to hold another meeting soon at the 400 Building in which Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe can give board members and residents his opinion on the situation.

Foxx said she'd informally met with Lowe on the issue and felt his input was important.

"I think this is all premature until we hear from the mayor," she said. "The last thing he wants to do is sell the 400 Building."

GHA is autonomous from city government, though the mayor appoints its board members.

The 400 Building has run at a loss three of the past four years, with the total deficit for that time approaching $600,000. GHA moved close to $500,000 from another program to cover costs at the building and also has to repay that. Significant repairs also are needed.

Foxx also asked for two additional broker appraisals on the property as requested at a previous meeting since GHA staff presented only one to the board on Thursday. GHA Commissioner Arthur Stockwell said the offer was worth looking into, especially because Carmichael could pass control of the property on to any organization — not necessarily Housing Preservation Inc. — since he submitted the letter of intent as an individual. That could jeopardize the fate of the building's offer of affordable housing.

Craig Taylor, a developer with Beneficial Communities, said his company — which also focuses on affordable housing — is also interested in making an offer. He said he made some phone calls last year inquiring about that possibility, but board members said they were never informed of that.

Although the board expressed interest in both offers Thursday, it still has not made a definitive decision to sell the building.

Resident Jean Ritch said the board should make the decision to sell as long as it could take the building off the market later if an opportunity to retain ownership arose.

"I feel like we're beating a dead horse," she said of the multiple meetings on the issue.

Williams said she was torn over the board's decision to wait on Carmichael's offer. While the offer sounded promising, she was glad the board wasn't rushing into a decision.

"I want them to do the right thing when they finally decide. They're really working for us, so they say," she said. "We'll see if it turns out that way."

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