Lessons on Post-Recession Community Development in Southwest Atlanta

Posted July 28, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Atlanta's Pittsburgh neighborhood

An esti­mat­ed 95% of the 10,000 new apart­ments built in Atlanta between 20132016 are con­sid­ered lux­u­ry” — with annu­al rent for a one-bed­room unit aver­ag­ing $20,736. Yet in Pitts­burgh, a his­tor­i­cal­ly African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hood hard hit by the 2008 fore­clo­sure cri­sis, the aver­age annu­al income is just $22,819.

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Afford­able Hous­ing in Pitts­burgh, high­lights its efforts over the last 11 years to address this dis­par­i­ty. It offers lessons and rec­om­men­da­tions that mis­sion-dri­ven fun­ders, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, investors and devel­op­ers can take to cre­ate more eco­nom­i­cal­ly inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ties and com­bat the tide of dis­place­ment that threat­ens Pitts­burgh and many oth­er neigh­bor­hoods of col­or through­out the nation.

As our nation con­tin­ues to reck­on with deeply root­ed racial injus­tices, includ­ing those we’re see­ing sur­round­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, it is cru­cial that we push ahead with the fight to cre­ate and pro­tect afford­able hous­ing options for black and brown fam­i­lies,” says Kweku Forstall, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site.

Rec­og­niz­ing that safe, sta­ble hous­ing is nec­es­sary for com­mu­ni­ties to thrive, the Casey Foun­da­tion launched a mul­ti­pronged approach in 2009 to help revi­tal­ize Pitts­burgh, large­ly focused on ren­o­vat­ing 53 homes through­out the neigh­bor­hood. To date, 43 prop­er­ties have been rede­vel­oped and rent­ed or sold at acces­si­ble prices and local non­prof­its will over­see a sim­i­lar trans­for­ma­tion for the remain­ing 10 properties.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion has been vital to the project’s success.

For those step­ping into the com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment and afford­able hous­ing space, find­ing the right part­ners who share your val­ues is crit­i­cal,” says Natal­lie Keis­er, a senior asso­ciate at the Foun­da­tion who over­sees Casey’s neigh­bor­hood revi­tal­iza­tion work in Atlanta.

Casey and its part­ners have used a mix of tools — includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty land trusts, land bank­ing, cre­ative financ­ing sources and down-pay­ment assis­tance pro­grams — to reduce vacan­cies, increase home­own­er­ship and cre­ate a vari­ety of afford­able hous­ing options.

The approach has also sought to sup­port com­mu­ni­ty lead­er­ship, engage­ment, safe­ty and beau­ti­fi­ca­tion to strength­en Pittsburgh’s pub­lic image and encour­age home sales among a diverse group of buy­ers. The Foun­da­tion fund­ed com­mu­ni­ty cleanups and façade improve­ments for local busi­ness­es, part­nered with city offi­cials for greater code enforce­ment of vacant prop­er­ties and pro­vid­ed grants to local non­prof­its to help own­ers with low incomes through­out Pitts­burgh make home repairs.

Beyond high­light­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges that have arisen since the rede­vel­op­ment efforts began, the report offers key lessons and pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions to expand access to safe, long-term afford­able hous­ing options. This advice includes:

  • com­ple­ment­ing phys­i­cal rede­vel­op­ment activ­i­ties with broad­er efforts to strength­en neigh­bor­hoods — such as com­mu­ni­ty cleanups, pub­lic art instal­la­tions, greater code enforce­ment and safe­ty mea­sures — that are devel­oped and led by res­i­dents and com­mu­ni­ty-based organizations;
  • seek­ing like-mind­ed devel­op­ers, real estate agents and oth­er part­ners who are will­ing to use mul­ti­ple fund­ing sources to bridge the gap between the cost of acqui­si­tion and devel­op­ment and what low­er-income buy­ers and ten­ants are able to pay;
  • con­cen­trat­ing rede­vel­op­ment activ­i­ties on one street or clus­ter of blocks to more quick­ly spur opti­mism and attract buyers;
  • cul­ti­vat­ing trust­ing rela­tion­ships with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and hire them to over­see active con­struc­tion sites and report tres­pass­ing when work­ers are not present;
  • pro­tect­ing laws, such as the Com­mu­ni­ty Rein­vest­ment Act, that ensure equal lend­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for low- and mod­er­ate-income buy­ers — espe­cial­ly those of col­or — and oth­ers that require home­buy­er edu­ca­tion and the pro­vi­sion of pub­lic down-pay­ment assis­tance; and
  • acquir­ing prop­er­ties that are ripe for com­bined and high­er-den­si­ty usage.

We hope the lessons and rec­om­men­da­tions shared in this report can help not only com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment part­ners and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Atlanta but also oth­ers through­out the Unit­ed States who are com­mit­ted to afford­abil­i­ty,” says Forstall.

Read or down­load the report

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