Gentrification is is a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about.
I recently spoke at LEAD Atlanta about gentrification and what is being done in the city to help longtime residents stay in their homes, help neighborhoods retain their character, and also help residents and neighborhoods find new opportunities to grow economically.
I love Atlanta, I love this city. I was born and raised here. This is my home! I see the city right now on a pathway – a continuum – between New School vs Old School. I believe I represent that continuum between Old Atlanta and Atlanta United! And as the city continues to grow and more people move here, we as leaders have to embrace that growth and manage and embrace the healthy tensions that exists in any mixture: old Atlanta – Gladys Knight, and New Atlanta – Atlanta United!
I love them both equally, New Atlanta and Old Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean living in both Atlantas doesn’t cause some tension. I’m a fan and promoter of both, but they can be worlds apart for some people, or they can be very close together with a very thin line. So discussing gentrification, most people discuss it from an economic perspective and the economic changes that occur in a community, but I also want to talk about it from a cultural changes that occur in a community.
Looking at gentrification from just purely an economic perspective, we can see that rents are rising. In 2015, analysis by Governing Magazine said Atlanta was the 5th-most gentrified city in the U.S. We also know that 90 to 95 percent of homes built in the last 5 years has been in the luxury category – well out of the price range of the average income workforce.
Property values go up, which increases property taxes in gentrified neighborhoods, forcing some people to be displaced. In Old 4th Ward, the average price of a home went from $126,000 in 2000 to $290,000 in 2018. it doubled. But, of course, we know the negative aspects of gentrification all too well: the loss of long-term legacy residents. Predatory investors have been knocking on senior citizens’ homes offering them money to move out of their homes to flip it, sell it, or rent it to other people. Some predatory investors have actually been messing up people’s homes to be able to cause a code violation that a senior won’t be able to pay to fix. That has to stop! Rising home values are also due to inflated prices.
Yet, there are positive aspects of gentrification. I see positives in revitalization of neighborhoods. When a new family moves in to a long-abandoned community with vacant lots, and they move into that home and as long as they keep it in the general character of the existing community, that’s positive: the same when businesses move into abandoned buildings.
So what am I and city government doing to deal with gentrification? We’ve introduced policies to create an owner-occupied loan program for senior citizens: it was one of the first policies I worked on when I joined the council 6 years ago, allowing seniors to apply for up to $30,000 for loans to fix their homes. We also created a housing opportunity bond: $40 million that helps provide building more affordable homes. We also do long-term housing loans and even down payment assistance for first-time buyers.
The Westside Future Fund and the Blank Foundation did a great thing to help pay rising property taxes in Vine City and English Ave: if your income is staying flat and property taxes rise, they’ll pay the difference. I’ve also sent 20,000 flyers to seniors to inform them about discounts they can have access for utilities discounts.
But these policies still aren’t enough: we need more Old School and New School solutions to address Atlanta’s gentrification’s economic and cultural impact.