Historic Savannah public housing complex should be demolished and rebuilt, consultant says

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A building consulting firm is recommending the demolition and redevelopment of Yamacraw Village, after it calculated over $51 million of damage. GPB’s Benjamin Payne reports.
Moldy walls, broken windows, leaky pipes and possible asbestos contamination are among a myriad of unsafe living conditions spelled out by consultants in a recent assessment of Savannah’s Yamacraw Village public housing complex.

In a 292-page report obtained by news outlet Savannah Agenda, California-based AEI Consultants catalogued more than $51 million in needed improvements, recommending that the Housing Authority of Savannah seek demolition and redevelopment rather than repairs.

Built in 1941 as segregated housing for Black residents, Yamacraw Village is among the nation’s oldest federally funded housing projects.

But since the complex’s construction under New Deal-era funding, decades of deferred maintenance have thrown the 20-acre complex into disrepair — so much so that AEI bluntly stated Yamacraw Village’s “remaining useful life” to be estimated at zero years.

The report stated that the Housing Authority of Savannah, which owns and manages Yamacraw Village, had not undertaken any “significant” capital expenditures in the last five years, aside from roof replacements in 2019.

Just two days of site visits were enough for AEI to find issues with virtually every aspect of the property. On July 31 and Aug. 1, they observed damaged foundations, siding, walls, flooring, stairs, cabinetry, air conditioning units and electrical wiring, among other structural and nonstructural problems.
“AEI recommends that the property apartment buildings be demolished and redeveloped to provide a higher density, affordable multi-family housing,” the report’s executive summary stated.

The Housing Authority of Savannah is already in the process of seeking federal approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish Yamacraw Village. AEI noted that its services were sought in order to “fulfill the due diligence requirements of a pending real estate transaction.”

A public meeting held earlier this year, intended to solicit feedback on the site’s historical significance, instead turned into an airing of grievances against government officials, with many attendees worried that the community would be priced out of any future development, especially given Yamacraw Village’s close proximity to Savannah’s popular downtown.

Should the complex eventually be demolished and redeveloped, such a move would echo the past: according to a local planning commission, the once-thriving African American neighborhood of Old Yamacraw was declared by HAS Chairman Fred Wessels in the late 1930s as “the worst slum in Savannah,” and felt the only solution was to demolish its dilapidated houses to clear the way for Yamacraw Village.

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