EDITORIAL: What’s the plan to get to where Anniston is headed? (opinion)

Glen Addie Homes

The Anniston Housing Authority is seeking the federal government's permission to raze Glen Addie Homes, the city's oldest public housing development. Local officials say the brick apartment buildings have problems with mold.

There’s no real way to know the emotional state of a caterpillar during its transformation into a butterfly, but it’s not illogical to imagine that it feels like it’s dying.

Going into a cocoon to essentially shut down while parts are removed and other parts are added must be a harrowing experience. But the result is always awe-inspiring and majestic.


While losing public housing options might feel like lower-income residents are being driven out of Anniston and that the city is dying, it’s more likely that Anniston is going through the growing pains of transformation.

A year ago, the Anniston Housing Authority razed Cooper Homes and has plans to tear down Barber Terrace and Glen Addie Homes in the near future.

Anniston Councilman Ben Little has complained that the loss of those housing options is driving residents away from Anniston and depleting the city population, particularly in the Ward 3 area that he represents.

Housing Authority Director Sonny McMahand provided proof at the most recent council meeting that the city’s population remains largely unchanged since the initiative began.

Little’s complaint seems to be driven by politics, but it’s not ridiculous to be concerned about the Housing Authority’s and the City’s overall plan.

The undertaking has been repeatedly described as an effort to tear down much of the city’s public housing apartments and replace them with a mix of housing options that could include more modern apartments and single-family dwellings. It makes perfect sense, especially for the older, mold-infested Glen Addie Homes apartments.

The problem, however, is that there’s no firm timeline for starting the rebuilding, much less for completion and move-in. As the first to be torn down last year, Cooper Homes is the public’s only measuring stick for how the plan is being executed, and it’s status is … unclear. 

That site was discovered earlier this year to be contaminated with PCBs and industrial waste. A more recent testing by Eastman Chemical — the company that now owns the former Monsanto, which was responsible for the PCBs — determined that the PCB contamination fell below the level that would mandate cleanup by EPA standards, according to McMahand. Which doesn’t necessarily scream “no worries, it’s all good.” Regardless, the industrial waste will still need to be remediated. That will take time, and the longer former residents are away, the less likely it is that they’ll hold out for opportunities to return. 

Which raises the question: Why tear down Cooper Homes without a more thought-out and ready-to-implement plan to replace it?

If the city of Anniston is not dying but going through a transformation, what does “Future Anniston” look like? And what are the defined, incremental steps to get there?

Yes, there has been big-picture rhetoric around the notion of mixed-use housing, but what are the specifics? Imagine if there were a detailed timeline for the Cooper Homes replacement, complete with an architectural rendering of what that space will look like in five years. Not only would former residents look forward to moving back in, but the entire city would rally behind the possibilities.

Sonny McMahand is in no way responsible for what’s broken in the city of Anniston, but he has been handed one of the brooms that could be used to clean things up. Solving the need for good, quality, affordable housing in the city of Anniston could open countless doors to Anniston’s ultimate transformation and become the core of what the city looks like by the end of the next decade.

A recent proposal by Councilman David Reddick to use the evermore popular tiny houses as a solution to homelessness has some merit, but how does that factor into the Housing Authority’s plan concerning public housing? What state and federal help has been solicited and/or offered by the likes of state Sen. Del Marsh or U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers and Sen. Richard Shelby?

A handful of residents in Ward 4 have solicited Marsh’s help to deannex the entire ward from the city. Marsh hasn’t committed, but what demands have city officials placed on Marsh? Remind him that he’s also YOUR senator.

A real plan that has a chance of working will require a unified effort.

If Anniston is transitioning, the question is: into what? 

City officials in every corner need to get on the same page and be transparent with residents about where Anniston is headed and how it’s going to get there. Take control of your destiny, embrace the future and run toward it.

There’s no such thing as an ugly butterfly.