The Anniston Housing Authority is seeking federal permission to tear down Glen Addie Homes, the city’s first public housing project, the authority’s director said Wednesday.
“It’s our oldest property, and it’s time for it to go,” said Willie “Sonny” McMahand, director of the Housing Authority.
Built in 1940, the 164-unit housing project was Anniston’s first foray into public housing, built to alleviate a shortage of affordable housing in the late Depression era. By the 1970s, Anniston would see a half-dozen similar complexes — one- and two-story red-brick apartments — at various locations around the city.
The Housing Authority has plans to tear many of those complexes down, replacing them with new, less-dense housing mixed with some Housing Authority-owned single-family houses scattered through Anniston’s neighborhoods. Cooper Homes near downtown was demolished last year and Barber Terrace Apartments is next on the list.
But McMahand said the age of the 79-year-old building is just as big a factor as the overall rebuilding plan. Mold, he said, is a big problem in the complex. In an announcement issued last week, the Housing Authority said “moisture, condensation and a lack of a vapor barrier in the building substrates” led to the decision to demolish.
It’s still not a done deal. The Housing Authority still needs permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which McMahand said would likely take three to nine months. Then officials have to move Glen Addie’s current residents out. McMahand said that process would be similar to the move out of Cooper Homes, in which residents were sent to other housing projects or given the option of rental subsidies for privately-owned apartments.
Views of the coming move were mixed Wednesday afternoon at Glen Addie. Several residents — none of whom wanted to give their names — said they agreed that the apartments were moldy but that they didn’t want to leave. One resident said he didn’t believe the move would happen, because the Housing Authority had done work to fix mold in recent months.
Former resident Dennis Anderson, who was at the complex visiting a friend Wednesday, said he was ready to see Glen Addie replaced with something new.
“They need to tear them down because it’s moldy,” he said.
McMahand said he expected residents to begin moving next year. The timeline for reconstruction is less clear: McMahand said he expected a new complex to be complete in 2021 or 2022. That’s largely because the Housing Authority is still waiting on federal approval of the demolition, for funding for the rebuild and for selection of a rebuild contractor.
He said it’s impossible to quote a price for the project now, for the same reason.
A rebuild will likely require an environmental assessment of the property, something that has proven worrisome for the Housing Authority’s other rebuild projects. An environmental survey of Cooper Homes and Barber Terrace revealed that the sites were built on industrial waste, something that initially had the Alabama Housing Finance Authority skeptical of plans to fund new construction on the site.
Those surveys also found toxic polychlorinated biphenyls on the site of the demolished Cooper Homes — a result that alarmed city officials. Anniston spent years cleaning up PCBs left behind by the former Monsanto plant on Alabama 202, a problem city officials thought was in the past.
It’s possible those PCBs were in the soil under the Cooper Homes buildings; even after the PCB cleanup was complete, environmental officials occasionally had to remove soil left under the foundations of houses when they were demolished.
McMahand acknowledged that the possibility of contamination under Glen Addie’s buildings was a concern for the Housing Authority.
“I’d say yes, because of what we found under Cooper Homes,” he said.