2010-06-18 / Business

Developer wins national housing award

By John Temple Ligon

National Affordable Housing Management Association Award goes to Columbia’s Riverside Apartments. National Affordable Housing Management Association Award goes to Columbia’s Riverside Apartments. Elizabeth Whitener, head of Columbia–based Creative Management Inc., went to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Washington to receive her national award, the only one in its category for 2009. Called the “2009 Communities of Quality Award: Outstanding Turnaround of a Troubled Property,” Whitener’s award recognized her accomplishments resuscitating the 104–unit Riverside Apartments at 3245 Lucius Road.

The other three categories in line for awards with Whitener were involved with senior citizens, families and special needs, but each of the three other categories had more than one recipient. Whitener’s Riverside, her turnaround of a troubled property, was recognized all by itself at the Washington awards ceremony.

Riverside is a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) with Whitener in charge, and the funding comes from her investors. It’s a project–based Section 8 complex, which means her tenants pay heavily subsidized rent, federal funds coming in to offset the cost of housing and bringing down that cost to something about 30 percent of a tenant’s gross income. Even though the housing subsidies come from the federal government, Whitener deals directly with the S.C. Housing Authority in handling the money.

Riverside developer and manager Elizabeth Whitener with Belinda Gergel. Riverside developer and manager Elizabeth Whitener with Belinda Gergel. On top of the rent subsidies can come utilities subsidies, maybe $100 a month for a one–bedroom apartment. Then for the school children who are out of class for the summer, there are breakfast and lunch programs to continue what happens at school.

Not a voucher arrangement, Riverside’s tenants’ rent subsidies are deposited monthly, while Whitener collects the rest from the tenants. If and when a tenant falls one month behind on the rent, Whitener puts into motion eviction proceedings, which can take another month or so. The great majority of Riverside’s tenants are reliable and timely rent payers, but the few who miss a month’s payment are targeted for relocation.

Before Creative Management Inc. Before Creative Management Inc. Besides past–due rent, other reasons for eviction include failing the scheduled quarterly inspections or failing spot inspections for cleanliness for the third time.

Under the Obama administration has come another consideration. There is a recently introduced program where a couple can face the orderly eviction from Whitener, immediately take the eviction notice to a government social worker, explain their absence of work, and the social worker can document the couple back into their same housing with Whitener for as long as two years without paying any rent or utilities, assuming neither resumes gainful employment during the two years.

After Creative Management Inc. After Creative Management Inc. Whitener formed her company, Creative Management Inc., in 2007 to take on the challenges of turnarounds in residential redevelopment. Once Riverside was well under way, Whitener took on Ames Manor, a 64–unit project at 5779 Ames Road. Ames Manor, unlike Section 8 Riverside, became a lowincome housing tax credit (LIHTC, often pronounced “lie–tech”) project.

Riverside has no tax credit feature for its investors in its financial structure, but Ames does.

At Ames, Whitener discovered a “total emergency,” as she put it, and she had to evict everybody. Ames Manor is approaching a positive momentum like Riverside; however, currently, only the interiors are just about complete. Next at Ames Manor will come the exteriors and the landscaping. Whitener is in the process of filing for a beautification matching grant with the City of Columbia.

Before Riverside could be called complete, Whitener became certified in more than a few categories. But once certified, Whitener and her staff continue to attend classes and take courses to keep up with the changing regulations scene.

At Riverside, Whitener and her staff run a school of sorts with classes on just about everything useful. She runs a Riverside jobs program, and she brings the Clemson Extension Service into Riverside to help train the tenants.

Whitener majored in art history at Converse College in Spartanburg. She spent her junior year at the University of London, and she interned at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D. C.

After a short stint as a receptionist for a Columbia accounting firm, Whitener enrolled at USC and earned her master’s of art in teaching (MAT). She taught art at Batesburg– Leesville Elementary and then all 12 grades at Heathwood Hall.

She entered residential real estate development and management one house at a time.

Whitener has learned to buy extra cleats when she shops for her sons, and she sometimes picks up extra everything else for her tenants’ kids.

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