Sandra Hudson has made a career out of trying to eliminate Northwest Georgia's poverty cycle. Her efforts were recognized recently during the dedication of a new housing complex with her name, the Sandra D. Hudson Villas in East Rome.
Hudson serves as executive director for the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority. Before becoming executive director, she headed the drug elimination effort for the housing authority. Back in 1992, drugs were a significant problem in Rome’s public housing communities, and Hudson wanted to do anything she could to combat the problem.
She was elevated to Director of Housing in 1997 and named interim executive director in 2000. Her position was made permanent in 2001, and she has worked tirelessly to elevate the quality of public housing in both Rome and Rockmart.
As director of the housing authority, she shares her motto with NWGHA Board Chairwoman Lee Hight: “Why would I build something that I wouldn’t want to live in myself.” Consequently, visitors who meander through Rome might not know that complexes are part of the public housing stock. These include Willingham at Division Apartments, the solar- powered Village Green Apartments, and, more recently, Joe Wright Village, a gated community off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in North Rome. Smaller developments like Bill Collins Village at Summerville Park, Pennington Place, and High Homes at Avenue B also fall under Hudson’s purview.
Her office also oversees the Section Eight Housing program. Low-income individuals who can’t qualify for public housing can receive rent assistance through the Section Eight program. One of the biggest challenges Hudson has faced in recent years is the lack of landlords willing to participate in the Section Eight program, which currently has a waitlist.
If you’re looking for a word or two to describe Hudson, persistent and stubborn might come to mind. Stubborn in that Hudson does not like to take no for an answer. She applied for federal aid to make improvements across a large swath of East Rome at least four times before winning a Choice Neighborhood planning grant for the Maple Street corridor as far south as the US 27 overpass. She has a third application for tax credit financing to completely demolish and rebuild the John Graham Homes community in East Rome before the Department of Community Affairs this fall.
“I wouldn’t live over there (Graham Homes) now, and I hate the number that has to live over there now,” Hudson said.” The ones that want to move are moving out, and we’re not moving anyone in those units.”
When Hudson eventually wins the state-sponsored tax credit financing plan for Graham Homes, and she will, the goal is to make at least 20% of the replacement units market-based rent properties.” This is because we have so many applicants that are over income. You may be talking about a mother with two or three kids, and she gets $16 an hour income which is over income for tax credit housing,” Hudson said. The market rate, according to Hudson, will still be well below the going rate of as much as $1,300 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in Rome.
Hudson led the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority’s effort to become certified as a Qualified Developer in March of this year. “We can build quality and still save money because we purchase all the materials, and then we only pay for the labor,” said Hudson.
Under Hudson’s leadership, the housing authority took over the public housing community in Rockmart in 2004, assumed control of the Ashland Park complex in Rome in 2014, and has paperwork in now to assume control of the Cave Spring public housing community. The plan in Cave Spring is to completely demolish the decades-old units and build new housing that meets the standards of quality that Hudson and the NWGHA board have implemented in Rome and Rockmart.
Once Hudson completes her work at John Graham Homes, and down in Cave Spring, she hopes to find a way to win upwards of $30 million in implementation funding for the Choice Neighborhood community in East Rome. “We may have to apply for that three or four times. “I’m not going to be here long enough to do that, but somebody, if they continue with the same persistence, hopefully, we can get that,” Hudson said.
Hudson also mentors public housing leadership in LaGrange, Canton, Gainesville, Milledgeville, and Thomaston when she finds the time.