Roughly four dozen Central State "doctors' houses" currently being readied for rent


What's happening right now in the rental market in Baldwin County and many other parts of the country is approaching crisis level.

The old adage is to spend no more than 30 percent of your income on rent, although that's quickly becoming unattainable. An increasing percentage of renters are now over 50 percent. The phenomenon is happening so quickly that it's not yet completely understood by social scientists and policy experts, and it's also not yet fully appreciated by politicians and lawmakers. The longterm impact the economy is still unknown, but it couldn't be good.

For example, a rental house in Carrington Woods recently was listed at $2,000 per month. Houses near downtown and Georgia College are going for $500 per bedroom. Even on the southside, there's currently a home in Harrisburg listed for $1,300 per month.

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Keep in mind, based on the data, Baldwin County is one of the poorer counties in one of the poorer states in the country. The Census Bureau most recently placed Baldwin County's median per capita income at around $26,000. A $1,300 rental house in Harrisburg adds up to $15,600 per year and a $2,000 rental house in Carrington Woods $24,000, while the average person around here makes roughly $26,000.

The problem, housing experts and economics professors will tell you, is a lack of supply. In order to bring rent prices down, renters need to have more options.

From this standpoint, some semblance of the relief is on the way, as 40-s0mething old Central State Hospital houses currently are being remodeled and retrofitted. The goal is to have them all finished at some point in 2023 and ready to be rented out, according to Walter Reynolds, executive director of the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority. The likely asking price will be between $1,100-$1,300 per month. Although that may be steep for some families, especially single parents, it's still considered "market rate" these days. The influx of new properties into the  market should have at least some impact on local prices.

The old Central State project is being called the "Riverbend Development," not to be confused with the apartment complex by the river bridge of the same name. A company earlier this year purchased the 157 acres and 54 different brick houses. Most were built in the 1950s and 1960s, when CSH administrators were in desperate need of medical doctors. The houses were built as a perk to recruit new doctors, hence the term "doctors' houses." Many of those doctors ultimately came from Cuba following the Castro Revolution and the botched Bay of Pigs invasion.

According to the "location description" in the official property listing on Fickling & Company's website, the "homes are located off the following roads:

• Vinson Highway

• Riverside Dr

• Riverside Annex Drive

• Riverbend Drive

• Riverbend Annex Drive

• Cox Circle

• Ft Wilkinson Road

• Youngblood Circle

• Rock Hill Street"

The development company that purchased the tract didn't know exactly what they were getting. After inspections, however, the good news is that "all but maybe eight or 9 will be able to be saved and rented out," according to Reynolds.

The old neighborhood already is being spruced up, and a significant amount of brush cutting already has been accomplished. There are also roofing projects happening throughout the neighborhood.

"The authority's No. 1 goal is job creation, and in the scope of economic development, you have to have affordable housing for your workforce. These homes will be rented out at market rate," Reynolds said. "We, as an authority, are very excited."

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