Officials say Thompson Square affordable housing project marks 'great future' for residents

Officials say Thompson Square affordable housing project marks "great future' for residents

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On Wednesday, the Lawrenceville Housing Authority announced the completion of a project officials said is the largest municipal investment in affordable housing in Gwinnett County.

The LHA held a ribbon cutting for the grand opening of Thompson Square, LHA’s newest community built in partnership with the city of Lawrenceville. The new community will provide an upgrade in the quality of life for LHA residents living in “functionally obsolete” housing into a community that is more modern.

Thompson Square features 40 affordable housing units with common space, landscaping and parking. The project was managed by Richport Properties and cost roughly $5 million, paid for by the city of Lawrenceville, and provides upgraded housing for residents living in 60-year-old units surrounding City Hall.

Lawrenceville Housing Authority Executive Director Lejla Prljaca said to see the project that was more than five years in the making come to fruition is fulfilling.

“It’s a project that we hope will show to the community that affordable housing will play an important role to our economy,” Prljaca said.

The project got off the ground because of the common interest between the LHA and city officials. Lawrenceville officials announced in 2017 plans for a $200 million, 32-acre mixed-use urban development at the site of 36 LHA project units. That land was negotiated for by the city with LHA to help make the Thompson Square project a reality.

“At the South Lawn development dedication, one of the things I talked about was a sense of place for the residents of that community,” Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson said. “In order for the South Lawn development to come to fruition, we had to look at moving the Lawrenceville Housing Authority Projects.”

A pilot program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development invited local housing authorities to apply to lift restrictions on the capital organizations could access to fund projects like Thompson Square. Prljaca said LHA and the city saw a unique opportunity to incorporate the city’s downtown revitalization efforts into LHA’s development strategy. Prljaca said LHA was the first housing authority in the U.S. to be granted a waiver to demolish and replace the 36 units it negotiated with Lawrenceville.

The units being replaced were built in the 1950s when the LHA was established. They were part of the original urban renewal plan sparked by HUD. LHA is the largest and oldest housing authority in the county.

“Even though we’d done a good job with the funds from HUD maintaining them, they are still functionally obsolete,” Prljaca said.

The project, though, may not have gone along so smoothly without Prljaca’s ties to Lawrenceville. She is a Central Gwinnett High School graduate who received a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University and a master’s degree from the University of Georgia. She’s also a former student of Johnson from the mayor’s days as a teacher at Central Gwinnett.

Prljaca said she’s worked for LHA for 15 years and has been in her current position as executive director for 12 years.

In a show of respect, the development took its name from former LHA Executive Director J.L. Thompson.

“It was a good 10 years, and we’ve made a lot of progress rehabilitating the 210 units in the city,” Thompson said.

Prljaca said the LHA is moving forward planning further large-scale affordable housing projects and she announced the organization selected OneStreet Residential to assist in future preservation and new construction initiatives. She hopes the Thompson Square project will serve as a catalyst for future developments.

All of the families currently living in those obsolete homes will be moving into their new homes next week.

“We hope that a new sense of place here will help propel them to even go to a better place in their future,” Johnson said.