The city of Sandy Springs will rent one Hammond Drive house as affordable housing for police or firefighters, while demolishing two others, the City Council decided Sept. 20.

The house at 521 Hammond will be offered to city public safety workers, likely for $500 a month, following repairs estimated to cost $10,500. And 418 and 550 Hammond will be demolished at an estimated cost of $15,000 each.

The house at 521 Hammond Drive. (Photo John Ruch)

The house at 521 Hammond Drive. (Photo John Ruch)

A third recently purchased house, 380 Hammond, had not yet been inspected for its rental potential. That inspection is pending with the next couple of days, according to city Facilities Manager Dave Wells.

The city has been trying to figure out what to do in the short term with houses it is buying as placeholders for a potential Hammond widening project that would be at least a decade away and is currently the subject of neighborhood controversy. This year, the city has authorized purchase of six Hammond properties, four of which have houses on them: 380, 418, 521 and 550 Hammond.

Sandy Springs was already was considering a possible housing stipend for public safety workers who can’t afford to live in the increasingly expensive city they serve. The Hammond house acquisitions led Councilmember Andy Bauman to suggest the affordable rental idea.

According to a staff memo, the city has $200,000 budgeted for renovating or demolishing its Hammond houses. Inspections found that renovating 418 Hammond would cost over $50,000, and 550 Hammond would cost over $44,000—more than councilmembers were willing to pay.

Another issue has been the city’s potential liability from acting as a landlord. City Manager John McDonough and city finance director Karen Ellis said that insurance coverage was available for about $400 to $500 per year. An independent property manager would be hired for a cost estimated to be about $100 to $130 per house per month.

On defining an “affordable” rental rate, councilmembers gave widely varying estimates, from $500 to $1,500 a month. McDonough indicated he decided to take that as $500 a month with a 2 percent annual escalator to fit the affordable housing purpose.

Mayor Rusty Paul said the city must devise a “fair and equitable” method of selecting any public safety workers as tenants.

McDonough suggested a 90-day time limit on getting a tenant to avoid leaving the house vacant. Paul agreed, saying, “If we don’t maintain it, it’s going to be a magnet for problems.” Indeed, the city already issued a citation against itself for an untidy yard earlier this year at 521 Hammond.

It remains unclear whether the Hammond house rental will be a one-time deal or a model for other city purchases on the street. The decision was made by mayor and council consensus in a non-voting work session.

Councilmembers Bauman and Gabriel Sterling indicated that, while they didn’t oppose the house rental, they thought the original idea of a housing stipend program might be better.

Sterling asked whether “it is better to give this money as some kind of benefit” for public safety workers to use in privately owned housing.

“I opened this can of worms,” Bauman acknowledged, but said he ideally would opt for a “more widespread program.” He also expressed a desire “that our new housing would incorporate some workforce housing” and indicated behind-the-scenes discussions about that are underway.

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