How gentrification is reshaping housing and displacing residents in Atlanta

Many Atlanta neighborhoods are being affected by gentrification and new housing projects are displacing long-term residents. Photo by Hannah Greco | The Signal

Atlanta has always been a city of movers and shakers, pushing new ideas and projects throughout the city. But what happens when it’s the cities neighborhoods that are being moved and shook?

With the mayoral race raging over the past year, candidates addressed the question of how to maintain affordable housing in Atlanta and how gentrification would affect traditional working-class neighborhoods. While the process of gentrification may add value to some Atlanta districts, citizens are recognizing some of the underlined implications of the process.

What is it?

Gentrification is defined as the process of renovating or improving a district to raise its value to middle-class standards. Notice the word “process” there. Gentrification is not an overnight occurrence that happens quickly. It takes intricate planning and even the execution takes years to complete. In fact, Atlanta has slowly been undergoing the process since the 1970’s.

Things didn’t really heat up until the 1996 summer Olympics were held here, bringing a level of diversity, economics and a sheer population density that Atlanta embraced with open arms.

Although the purpose of gentrification has positive intentions on the surface (to make living here more attractive to that new influx of people), a deeper look at it reveals some of the questionable outcomes of the process.

Outcomes of Gentrification

The reality is that the results of gentrification work greatly in the favor of some. For real estate companies, raising the value of their property is their main goal. Gentrification allows them to reap the benefits of new architecture or a new trendy atmosphere for their target buyers. They want to pump in middle class families to help keep their companies lucrative.

Photo by Hannah Greco | The Signal

Statistically, people in the same income range are going to tend to live in the same neighborhoods. So once a few middle-class families move into a gentrified district and begin to shape that local economy and urban culture to their liking, more middle-class families are sure to follow suit. Next thing you know, the real estate companies are paid and a large number of middle class families have just found new homes.

However, the issue arises from the families that were living in those neighborhoods before those benefactors started that process.

As the property values rise in the eyes of buyers, they also rise in the wallets of buyers. Real estate companies are able to hike up the prices of the attractive revamped areas. Eventually, whether their specific property has been renovated or not, just by being in vicinity of a gentrified area raises rent for those families.

At that point, lower-income families will be displaced because they cannot afford to keep up with increasing costs of living in newly gentrified areas. Even if affordable housing was still available, the prices of goods and services in those areas will also be inflated to account for the wealthier population and to help step up their businesses to meet the trends of the area. This would also be a burden on lower-income families.

As the process is underway and the original residents begin to mix with the new residents, tensions can begin to rise from the conflict of interests. While the original residents were satisfied with their neighborhood’s value and how it accommodated their finances, the middle class moving in is pushy about the change they want to see happen in the area despite how it will affect the original residents.

Considering all of these potential negative outcomes, gentrification seems a bit more trouble than it leads on.

Gentrification in Atlanta

Atlanta has had an interesting relationship with gentrification. There has been a major shift in demographic populations in the city that have sensitized long-time residents to the signs of gentrification even more than the financial aspect of it has.

In 1990, Atlanta was 67 percent African-American, 1.7 percent Hispanic and 31 percent white. As of 2016, those numbers changed significantly with African-Americans dropping to 54 percent, Hispanics rising to 5 percent, and whites meeting 38 percent.

Many of the lower-income neighborhoods that are being gentrified here in Atlanta are also home to minorities. The people that have been living there also notice the fact that it is largely a white population that is buying into gentrified property, offsetting their housing situation that they established specifically to fit their financial constraints. For example, between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. Census reports that the white population in Atlanta as a whole grew by over 22,800. During the same timespan, the African-American population dropped by a mass of more than 30,300.

While this had the potential to be a way to diversify certain neighborhoods and help bring different income brackets into economically stagnant areas, the minorities are often displaced from their homes because of the drastic results gentrification brings.

Some Atlanta neighborhoods that have experienced these effects of gentrification are Kirkwood, Edgewood and the Old Fourth Ward.

Atlanta Magazine explored the how gentrification was changing the Kirkwood area last year. They reported that in 1990, only one percent of Kirkwood’s population was white. However, by 2010, the African-American population made up less than half of Kirkwood’s population.

Creative Loafing reported last year that in Edgewood the median price for a home was around $100,000 just 5 years ago, but by 2016, that number had nearly tripled. If you ever drive through the neighborhoods, you can even see clearly some older neglected housing that is in the shadows of large, newly constructed apartments just steps away.

The Old Fourth Ward is quite possibly the most disheartening example of gentrification in Atlanta. Once home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other affluent residents, the neighborhood is full of history for Atlanta in general, but especially for the African-American community. Now, African-American residents make up a little less than half of the population.

This is another area where gentrification faces opposition. Not only are residents being pressed financially, but gentrified neighborhoods are also paving over history with every new apartment built for the middle-class families. For example, the David T. Howard building where Dr. King attended elementary school has been vacant and ignored by new residents for close to 20 years.

Politics of Affordable Housing

There is also a political side to gentrification that considers the racial, economic and ethical layers of the gentrification onion. As the mayoral race comes to a head today, remember some of the candidates’ thoughts on affordable housing in Atlanta. Some of those thoughts were shared at a mayoral forum back in September.

All of the candidates were actually in agreement that affordable housing was a major concern of theirs.

City Council President Ceasar Mitchell even asserted that affordable housing has to be the most pertinent issue in Atlanta. He aims to make 30,000 new affordable housing options through what he calls his “blight to light” program.

Peter Aman, who remarked “we have people who built Atlanta being forced out of Atlanta,” agreed with City Councilman Kwanza Hall that road congestion is also an issue for working class citizens who have to travel to the inner city from home because the properties here are unaffordable. Kwanza would like to use Atlanta Housing Authority properties to create a projected 20,000 new affordable housing units in the city. Aman proposes a committee specifically to work on inclusionary zoning for more affordable housing.

City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood push for efforts to protect long-time residents of the inner city against displacement as gentrification takes place. To contribute to what she refers to as “displacement-free zones,” Bottoms helped create an Anti-Displacement Fund that will assist residents near the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium who may experience elevated property taxes. Norwood wants to protect senior homeowners especially and offer tax abatement to property owners in exchange for renovating their lower-income housing.

What does all of this mean?

As some of Georgia State’s students lie in their dorm bed, the housing market could very possibly be the furthest thing from their minds. Even so, this will soon become important to anyone who plans to break out of dorm-living at any point in time to live in Atlanta.

Just scraping the tip of the iceberg of gentrification can expose how unpredictable our housing rates can be here. As Atlanta begins to grow and accept new residents, real estate companies are going to recognize that since they will be searching for the best areas to live in.

This means, just like in some of the neighborhoods mentioned earlier, your property value and rent are liable to fluctuate greatly over a short period of time. Your housing might be affordable after graduating this December starting at the entry position of your dream job, but five years from now, as middle-class buyers pour into your trendy neighborhood, your pockets may start to feel a little light.

Not to mention the ethical decisions that come into play with housing. People need places to live, and at the end of the day housing is, in fact, a business. Nevertheless, is it reasonable to knowingly push out people from the neighborhoods they have raised families in their whole lives? Is it understandable to inflate the economy of a neighborhood that those residents have fueled for decades? Is it acceptable to neglect decrepit apartment complexes to fund new complexes that look a little more contemporary?

These are all questions someone in the market for a house or apartment have to ask themselves. Gentrification is inevitable because in order for that business to boom, they have to stay competitive. But, with a city as large as Atlanta, maybe there is a better way to raise our real estate value for newcomers without hurting our Atlanta natives that have contributed so much to the growth.

And more alarming than the state of gentrification now is that we have to answer those questions as soon as possible because the big “G” monster is not going to stop and wait for us to figure it out.

Two notable neighborhoods currently under gentrification in Atlanta are Edgewood and the Old Fourth Ward. Here are some stats on how housing prices have changed there over the past five years.

Edgewood Rough Median Housing Prices between 2012 and 2017

2012- $150,000

2013- $190,000

2014- $217,000

2015- $261,000

2016- $272,000

2017- $325,000

Old Fourth Ward Rough Median Housing Prices between 2012 and 2017
2012-$136,000
2013-$190,000
2014-$289,000
2015-$263,000
2016-$343,000
2017-$364,000

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