By Jim Wehner
“How do you transform a street?”
There are literally dozens of ways to answer this question. At FCS, we think there is really one core principle that stands out: neighboring. Populating empty homes pushes out blight and builds positive energy that lets a street get its groove on!
In South Atlanta, the neighborhood where we currently serve, the issue of vacancy makes a street vulnerable to all sorts of negative urban realities. But when we begin to put neighbors back in houses, streets come alive again.
Take Thayer Avenue for instance. Two years ago, there was a block and a half section of this street with 12 houses. Nine of them were vacant. This tiny section of our neighborhood was rough, and the 75% vacancy wasn’t helping.
FCS had three families living there, two of them are staff. Nine of the homes on this block were built in 2006 and investor owned. An epidemic of mortgage fraud meant majority vacancy by 2009.
One of the program staff walked into my office and asked if there was anything FCS could do on that block through Charis Community Housing, our housing program. We went to work.
It took Charis almost 18 months to complete the acquisition and sale of 6 houses on this block - two affordable and four market-rate. Simultaneously, two investors (not connected to our work) bought properties and rehabbed them for rentals.
When we came to closing on these houses, we provided resource manuals for the new residents, discussed important ideas around “intentional neighboring,” and introduced the new homeowners to our neighborhood Civic League to encourage their participation in the community. Ownership and involvement go a long way to seeing streets transform.
Now, a mere 24 months later, this section of Thayer Avenue is alive and well. Of course, it’s not perfect. Neighbors have differences, but that goes for even the most healthy streets.
Property crime continues to be an issue, albeit much less than two years ago. And residents on the street came together to get more street lights from the city to help.
Recently we learned that one of the neighbors on Thayer is moving. But while we will miss her, one of the signs that this street is transforming is the very fact that she was able to market and sell her home is less than 30 days. Thayer is a great street to live on!
How do you transform a street? It is the people on the block, participating in the life of their street, valuing the diversity of the urban landscape, and investing in healthy neighboring relationships.