The City of McRae-Helena hosted the first MH3 community meeting Tuesday (March 13) and according to Mayor Mike Young, "It was a very positive meeting!" First and foremost on the agenda for the evening was to provide an answer to the question, "What is MH3?"
"MH3 is our local housing team," explains City Manager Liz McLean. "It stands for McRae-Helena Helping Hands. The name was one of the products of our eight-hour retreat session over the course of three days. We chose the name because we wanted to help the community to make a positive impact and just be the helping hands that so many in this community need."
Backed by the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH), a program city planners have been trying to get into for the last couple of years, MH3's primary focus can be succinctly characterized by their mission statement - "With Liberty and Housing for All."
The backbone of the program is essential training and assistance for communities struggling with housing issues. GICH assists communities with improving quality of life and economic vitality through development of locally-based housing and revitalization strategies.
"You have to go through an application process," explains McLean. "You show where your community is at now, what your needs are, where you want to be, and then you start putting that team of community partners together. We were selected as semifinalists in 2016 and we had a site visit. We took them to different places around town and we were one community away from being chosen for the program. But we didn't give up and we kept coming back."
The persistence paid off. The next time the city applied, McRae-Helena was welcomed into the program.
"We created a code enforcement division and started addressing some of our problems before we were ever in the program," says the city manager. "So then we reapplied and we got in this time. At that point, you get a small group out of your original team and go to a retreat - which is two or three days of presentations from speakers talking about various housing issues. We're all sitting in a room one-on-one with everyone talking about our town creating an actual work plan. You're not talking about it in abstract ideas - you're talking about it in actual steps."
"When the city applied for the GICH, we saw it as an opportunity to partner with our public and our citizens too," adds Mayor Young. "So it's not just a government reach-out. It's a togetherness, a community coming together and this is a true opportunity for us to get out and evaluate where some of our blighted areas are and what some of our needs are. over the next three years, it's just an opportunity for the city to truly address some of those needs in areas that need that attention.
In the first summit meeting, the MH3 team came up with a list of issues they hope to address in the community over the next six months. When the six month period is up, the team is expected to return to the GICH programmers and explain how they did.
"We report back at our next retreat," says Young. "We'll get up in front of the room and talk about what we've done. Having that facilitator to hold you accountable helps to bring everything back to focus to keep you on that solid vision you want to have for the next six months. It's kind of broken up into six month increments. We've got some really good things coming up and hopefully we'll have a good report on our first meeting back in September."
Items of Immediate focus on MH3's Short-Term Work Plan for the next six months are as follows:
- Develop logo, create team t-shirts, and other marketable materials to raise community awareness of MH3 and the mission In Conjunction With GA Cities Week
- Solid Waste Amnesty Week (April 23-27) - Get the word out by having MH3 volunteers helping unload citizens unwanted materials in 2 hour, 2 volunteer work intervals
- Community Clean-Up Day (April 28) - Close off GA Cities Week by hosting the first community clean-up day by volunteering our hands to clean properties of those in need. Will be a quarterly event so please VOLUNTEER!!!
- Finalize Housing Assessment Questionnaire and possibly begin assessment of McRae-Helena housing stock
- Apply for Community Develop Block Grant (CDBG) water improvement funds
- Create a housing resources page on www.mcrae-helena.org
- Develop and Strengthen City Ordinances
- Blight - Look in to options to address blight and/or blighted vacant properties
- Property Maintenance - Reevaluate International Property Maintenance Code to find what works best for our area
In addition to local projects that should demonstrate immediate obvious improvements, MH3 facilitators hope that McRae-Helena's new affiliation with GICH will streamline new opportunities for better access to community development block grants and other essential programs geared specifically to improving Georgia communities.
MH3's mission statement is, "Our mission is to develop, provide, and maintain quality, affordable housing opportunities for families and individuals promoting renewal of neighborhoods through revitalization. Restoring and strengthening community involvement, giving respect back to McRae-Helena."
To learn more about the MH3 Community Housing group and to find out how you can volunteer to help, call McRae-Helena City Hall at 229-868-6051.