by Jim Wehner
There’s a one-block stretch of Dorothy Avenue in Historic South Atlanta with eight houses. Six months ago, five of the eight homes were vacant. To give you an idea of how long three of these houses had been empty, when the city replaced sewer lines on the street, they didn’t bother connecting the houses to the sewer lines. These 80 year-old dwellings had transferred from investor to investor, ultimately passing decades, vacant and blighted.
In 2015, FCS was able to acquire all five of the vacant houses on Dorothy Avenue. Four of them required extensive renovations. We’re not talking simple cleaning and landscaping here. More like gutting entire houses and rebuilding from the foundations. A beautiful metaphor for kingdom work! Watching new framing going up and fresh paint drying on such a neglected street is a joyful image of renewal.
From a development standpoint, our choice to renovate these houses may not be “best practice.” For-profit developers avoid neighborhoods like ours for a reason. In a more sought-after neighborhood with a healthier housing market, it could make financial sense. But our local home prices remain depressed, and it’s virtually impossible to get a house appraised for the full value of the work we put into it. Flipping houses in South Atlanta can feel like a losing business. This is where a non-profit can fill the niche a for-profit will avoid.
Gentrification with Justice
Our founder, Bob Lupton, promoted the concept of “gentrification with justice.” A neighborhood in distress needs the networks and vitality new residents can bring. But urban housing trends make it clear that socioeconomic shifts without protection of affordable housing can impact the resident population dramatically. Higher income homeowners move in, while struggling neighbors move on to find more affordable places to live.
Our work on Dorothy Avenue and in the South Atlanta neighborhood illustrates a successful, alternative model.
FCS has been quietly protecting affordable housing in South Atlanta for fifteen years through strategic rentals and affordable homeownership programs. We come alongside families that show the ability and desire to own their homes, but who may not qualify for traditional bank loans. Our rental program has been a proven source for connecting to future homeowners.
FCS maintains ten units of affordable, single-family rental homes in the neighborhood. This relationship allows us to identify residents with the capacity and desire for homeownership. Through a rigorous training program, FCS prepares families to enter into homeownership.
To build a strong base of affordable homeownership throughout the community, FCS has also partnered with other programs, such as Habitat for Humanity, to provide affordable homeownership opportunities. Now, between FCS and Habitat for Humanity, almost 20% of all homes in Historic South Atlanta (and 31% of all homeowners) are owned by families who could not have qualified for traditional loans and would have been excluded from homeownership. They are now able to experience the benefits of owning an asset that appreciates in value over time. Low-income residents become connected to the mainstream economy in a healthy way.
Extending the Reach
Our work is not finished with affordable home ownership. So FCS continues to purchase and renovate these vacant properties for the more traditional, workforce market. Families qualifying for bank loans can move into quality homes and be part of growing and healthy community.
Our programs are having an impact! More and more, we see new people exploring the community, buying properties, and talking about Historic South Atlanta. Even as some gentrification begins, we have a strong base of affordable homeowners and renters to make up a socioeconomically diverse community. The ripple effect of increased diversity and density is the start of a growing business community and increased attention for our local schools.
More importantly, our historic neighborhood is experiencing growth instead of decline! If you want to come join us on Dorothy Avenue, we’ve still got a house or two waiting for just the right neighbors. This is gentrification with justice!