Living Democracy

Elba Housing Authority sees room for growth with new construction

Housing is often something many take for granted. However, some people do not have access to adequate affordable housing. In Elba, the Housing Authority works to make sure public housing is available to those who need extra support.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Laurie Chapman, executive director of the Elba Housing Authority, and her staff struggle to operate under difficult conditions never experienced before. Nevertheless, herself and her team have risen above these circumstances and are now operating at a new normal.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many were forced to remain at home. As the situation progressed and more information was available, the operation started to become more normal.

“We went from working 40 hours a week in the office to only doing 20 hours,” Chapman said. The change in work hours was made to limit the number of people in the office at any given time throughout the week.

Chapman explained that she and her team at the housing authority work hard to follow CDC guidelines and to take precautions to ensure the safety of residents. She said making the adjustments was a difficult task as the new normal prevented residents from entering the office to hang out per usual. All business is conducted through a glass window or using a transactional drop box with limited interaction.

According to elbahousing.org, their mission “is to provide and develop quality affordable housing opportunities for individuals and families while promoting self-sufficiency and neighborhood revitalization.”

Currently, six people work for the Elba Housing Authority with Chapman, who has been executive director for three and a half years. Before assuming that position, Chapman served on the board of commissioners for the EHA.

In March 2020, the Housing Authority received funds through the CARES Act, including $65,000 for public housing and about $13,000 for Section 8. She explained they were able to use these funds to purchase personal protection equipment, sanitize units, switch some services online, update computers and assist with public housing. 

The Elba Housing Authority provides two different types of assistance, public housing, and Section 8 housing vouchers. Chapman explained that the EHA has 125 public housing units and offers 119 Section 8 vouchers. 

The difference between the two programs is that one is government-owned housing while the other provides a voucher for low-income tenants that can be used to pay a landlord. Applicants for housing assistance must meet certain income qualifications and go through a vetting process that requires screenings and an interview.

Many choose public housing because of the benefits involved such as pest control, utilities and garbage disposal, which makes their standard of living better while others prefer Section 8 vouchers because of the level of privacy involved as no one knows that an individual is getting assistance.

Approximately 100 of the 119 available housing units are used every month, Chapman said. The full capacity of the Section 8 housing is not being utilized because there is not enough rental housing in Elba.

According to Chapman, housing in Elba faces two major problems, new construction, and flooding.

There is not a lot of new construction in Elba because the city is a low-income community and, therefore, the comparable rents are quite low. The community also floods because of its proximity to the Pea River.

In 2015, EHA lost several rental homes due to flooding near the downtown area, and these homes have yet to be recovered or bought through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program due to the long process involved. Additionally, when these damaged homes are bought by the government the land now belongs to city and becomes obsolete and inaccessible for new construction because of the risk of future flooding.

“Not only low-income housing but new construction is very little in Elba,” Chapman said. Many who travel to work in Elba can’t find appealing homes they can settle in with their families.

The construction of new homes, affordable homes and better-quality homes are important to the improvement in rentals and the growth of Elba.

The small community of Brockton sits between Enterprise and Elba and has been slowly growing in recent years. There is a major food distribution plant located in Brockton and though the community is approximately half the size of Elba, they are growing rapidly.

“If it continues to grow, it will trickle over into Elba,” Chapman said. She said she expects the growth and traffic from neighboring communities will help Elba grow and bring new construction that will help EHA see more options for rentals and affordable housing.

By Oquendo Bernard
Last Updated: May 26, 2021