Thursday, October 12, 2017

Residents Fight for their Communities and Offer Solutions

This morning Southside residents of Atlanta and Housing Justice League members and supporters delivered a new report to City Hall showing gentrification and displacement from BeltLine development in Atlanta's historically Black Southside. The report, by the Atlanta advocacy group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative, shows Southside residents are already being displaced by the Atlanta BeltLine greenway development even in neighborhoods that it has not yet touched. The Atlanta BeltLine, which will ultimately be a 22-mile loop of green parks, trails, and streetcars circling inside city neighborhoods along discontinued rail beds, is a force for gentrification and displacement of long-time, low-income residents, many of them Black.

CAN WE COUNT ON YOU TO COME TO THE COMMUNITY LAUNCH FOR THE BELTLINE FOR ALL CAMPAIGN?

Proceeding the actual delivery of the report to City Council and the Mayor, participants of the research project gathered with their supporters, City candidates and elected officials, the press, and others on the steps in front of City Hall to hear from Southside Residents. All of the speakers emphasized the importance of community involvement and accountability in city planning in order to meet the critical needs of long-time residents and avoid historical and continuing patterns of racism, displacement, and disinvestment.

As Alison Johnson, a Peoplestown resident and Housing Justice League member who helped author this report, says,

“Communities on the Southside deserve to be a part of the process to shape and determine the neighborhoods where we live. We want the kind of responsible, democratic city building that gives us the best quality of life, not that which is done by and for the wealthy.”

Research by the Atlanta community group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative, largely in the three historically Black neighborhoods of Adair Park, Peoplestown, and Pittsburgh, tracks the hopes of residents for the BeltLine, how they are actually affected by it, and the forces of gentrification that, if left unimpeded, will damage the economic and racial diversity that long-term residents and newcomers alike say is a strength of the area.

The report – “BeltLining: Gentrification, Broken Promises, and Hope on Atlanta's Southside” – builds upon analysis of census data, a survey, and a year-long participatory action research project. The researchers found that:

·         Residents overwhelmingly want to stay in their neighborhoods,
·         Gentrification has already raised property values and displaced people in historically Black neighborhoods not yet touched by BeltLine development, and
·         Atlanta failed to enact protections against displacement that have been effective in other parts of the country. It still has time to do so as the BeltLine turns its development eye to more of the historically Black Southside.
 
The report’s major recommendation is for Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated, the public-private partnership leading the development, and the City as a whole, is to embrace more democratic planning processes so that the interests of current residents are incorporated into development, and the supportive networks among neighbors are protected and appreciated.

Housing Justice League is itself helping to model what this kind of planning could look like for the city at large. The community-directed research report is part of Housing Justice League’s broader BeltLine For All campaign, seeking to create spaces that center resident voices and promote community engagement in the development process. The Monday following the press release Housing Justice League will officially launch the broader campaign with a community-centered event where people will be able to learn more about the research, connect, and sign up to volunteer and lift up their perspectives through the campaign.

BeltLine for All will seek to curb Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated’s irresponsible record on affordable housing through democratic participation, people pressure, and public policy. Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated was launched in 2005, when the Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Public Schools, and Fulton County all empowered a new Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District to fund both parks and more than 28,000 units of housing – only 5,600 units of it affordable – in neighboring areas. The hope of the BeltLine lies in its initial promises: to spur equitable development and to include a robust affordable housing strategy to prevent displacement.

But as Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated itself acknowledges, almost midway through the 25-year-long development period, fewer than 1,000 units of affordable housing have been built in the area, far short of the original goal, even as housing prices near the greenways are rising faster than in the city as a whole. This means the area is losing far more existing affordable housing than it is creating. And there are no rent regulations or alternative property tax policies to stop the surge. 


To learn more about the policy BeltLine for All will push for to turn around the unjust development practices displacing residents, you can read the full report on housingjusticeleague.org.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

22 Cities, Including Atlanta, Deliver Clear Message Regarding HUD Cuts Today

Today tenant leaders along with members of the Housing Justice League delivered a letter to HUD’s regional office in Atlanta in protest of potential cuts to the HUD budget.
Atlanta is already in the grip of a historic affordable housing crisis and we must oppose the $7.4 billion in budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) proposed by President Trump and supported by Secretary Carson. If the cuts pass, Miami will be at-risk of losing nearly $24 million each year for housing assistance, and thousands of Miami residents who are currently in HUD-subsidized housing will be in jeopardy of becoming homeless.

Half of all renters in America are cost burdened, paying over 30 percent of their income to housing. This is over 21 million renter households. One in four of these pay over half of their income to housing, leaving no money left over for basic needs like food or childcare. We must expand, not reduce, federal funding for proven HUD programs.

A safe and affordable place to live is a fundamental human right, and where we live has a direct, concrete impact on the opportunities that are available to ourselves and our children. To change this injustice, we will need the power of people coming together through organizing in local places all across America. We will need to use communities’ organizing power to hold government accountable at the local, state and national levels. Good and just public policy can only be developed with the direct input and experiences of those impacted the most by that policy.

After we delivered the letter to HUD's regional office headed to Representative John Lewis’ office office which is right around the corner from HUD. Congressman Lewis is one of many who has oversight over HUD’s budget.


Today’s action was part of a national effort to prevent cuts to the already underfunded HUD. You can see what actions other cities took by checking out hashtags #NoHUDcuts and #NoCuts on twitter, Instagram, and facebook.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ice Cream Parlors and Peoplestown: Turner Field Through the Eyes of Clemmie


Turner Field Through the Eyes of Clemmie

News coverage of the Turner Field Neighborhoods community struggle has focused on the macro purchasers- Georgia State University and Carter Development International. But it has not given attention to the people of the Turner Field Neighborhoods. It is the peoples’ voices that have built the community, however, and the peoples’ voices that have sustained housing movements past and present. They must be continuously raised up. In an effort to bring the peoples’ voices forward, this essay will share the story of one particular Peoplestown hero: Clemmie C. Jenkins.  
   
   Clemmie C. Jenkins is a longtime resident of Peoplestown. “I came into this community when I was age four,” Clemmie notes, “and now I’m sixty-six.” Clemmie is the only remaining member of her family still in the neighborhood. “My aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends have all moved away over the years. Some have gone to places that are nicer, some to places that are more worn-down. But I’ve remained in Peoplestown through thick and thin. This neighborhood is part of my blood.”
   Clemmie Jenkins’ biography is intimately tied to the area’s history. She has been involved in community activism since childhood and since become an anchor for its honesty and accountability. Though a former mental health care worker and small apartment realtor, Clemmie is primarily known as a go-to resource person in Peoplestown. She actively helps Peoplestown senior citizens, and driving them to where they want to go. “We go to grocery stores, pick up medicine, make doctor’s appointments,” Clemmie notes. “Anything that senior citizens in Peoplestown need, they let me know. I’m a resource person here.”  
   Her experiences growing up were tied to the people around her. Their caring presences grew her into a  community activist. Ollie Crutchfield Powell, Clemmie’s mother, was a particularly large influence on Clemmie’s life. 



Ollie Crutchfield Powell and D.H. Stanton

   Ollie Powell was a feisty and beloved community organizer. She was active in the Peoplestown City League and often involved in the community. Ollie took Clemmie to all community meetings that she attended. “I didn’t have a choice going into activism,” Clemmie notes. “If Mom was there, I was there.” Ollie’s on-the-ground work influenced Clemmie. “I am what I am because of my mother. She fought for what she knew was right and spoke out.”
   Slater Elementary was the neighborhood’s main school when Clemmie was growing up. But it was far from most Peoplestown homes. Students in the neighborhood had to walk at least one mile to school. “We had to walk across the railroad track at the end of the street…then go down Pryor Street to Slater Elementary. It was a distance for us. And with our five year old feet, it felt like forever.”
   “My mother didn’t like the fact that we would have to walk all the way to Slater Elementary from our home on Haygood Avenue. She got together with our neighbors who had children in the school- and said, we need to do something about this. We need to change business as usual in South Atlanta. So they organized the Peoplestown City League and advocated for the creation of D.H. Stanton. And that’s where I ended up.”
   Ollie’s activism and awareness of her surroundings was quickly picked up by Clemmie. As a young person, Clemmie was observant of the neighborhood around her. Walking to and from school, she would see the same sights and hear the same sounds. Though most of the homes and businesses disappeared from Peoplestown’s main thoroughfare by the late-1960s, Clemmie remembers them vividly.

1950s Turner Field to a Young Clemmie

   “I can imagine in my mind when this neighborhood was a vibrant neighborhood. Right here where we’re sitting, there used to be a huge grocery store. A huge store. And then urban renewal came and tore it all down,” Clemmie says.
   Sitting at the intersection of Hank Aaron Drive and Ralph David Abernathy, it is hard to imagine the area filled with anything other than decrepit stadiums and empty parking lots. But before Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard became what it is today, it was Georgia Avenue- the site of bustling parlors and restaurants and home to many of South Atlantans working-class black families.  
   Down the street were also other popular neighborhood establishments: an ice cream parlor called French’s ice cream, a place that sold breaded-fish, and a place that sold chickens. There was also a library on the corner, “You could buy all sorts of pies…apple, peach, sweet potato, coconut. And each were just $1. That was…that was a good time.”
   Along the 1950s version of Hank Aaron Drive, a man sold fresh watermelons out of an ice box in his backyard. Thinking back to her childhood, Clemmie recalls “He had a freezer IN THE YARD. There was nothing like eating a cold watermelon right there in the yard…highlight of my life. I don’t know how that man got that freezer in his yard.”
   Listening to the current traffic at Turner Field, one can imagine people speaking loudly and yelling to each other as they walked in 1950s South Atlanta to buy ice cream or go eat. One can imagine a hot dusty street that was brought alive by food and people.



Changes in Turner Field
   The parcels of land in front of the old Georgia Avenue-turned Hank Aaron Drive are different from before. A large stadium and parking lot have replaced rows of homes and businesses. Billboards have replaced side-street watermelon stands. Renters, homeowners, and small businesses do not own the land any more. Large universities, corporate developers, and wealthy stock-holders do. Corporate-friendly purchase deals have ushered in the macro forces of urban renewal and gentrification. 
   But perhaps the largest change has been in the relationships between neighbors. The new corporate neighbors of today are not as committed to the safety and welfare of the neighborhood or its residents as the real people neighbors of yesterday. 

 “I remember there was one time I ran into a brick building with my skates and got hurt…I had trouble getting home on time. But when I got home, what do you know…my mother already knew! Neighbors had told her about my situation and she was aware of everything. Neighbors looked out for neighbors. All the neighborhood looked out for you.” 
   When Georgia State University first purchased the Turner Field property, it ignored communication from the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition to sit at the table and sign a legally-binding Community Benefits Agreement. That initial breach of miscommunication has been a sore point for many in the neighborhood, and the source of organized protests calling on GSU and Carter Development International to give residents consideration and serious talking time. As of May 11th, however, discussions have moved forward as a team from the Coalition is in negotiations with Georgia State University.    

  

What the purchase of Turner Field can bring
   As a long-time community advocate and resident, Clemmie Jenkins desires for the Peoplestown neighborhood to remain stable and grow stronger. When asked about her thoughts on a Community Benefits Agreement, Clemmie noted, “Georgia State University can offer residents a chance to attend Georgia State at a reduced rate. It can give neighborhood seniors opportunities to go back to school. GSU can employ local residents. It can do a lot for the PEOPLE in this area.”
Clemmie finds it important that Georgia State University treat Peoplestown and the surrounding neighborhoods with as much respect as they treat the neighborhood of Summerhill. “That’s the only way we can be a strong area. Neighbors need to respect neighbors. They need to listen to our voices, meet with us, and sit down face to face.”
   The Turner Field Neighborhoods can be strong and lively. But, as Clemmie notes, the neighborhood needs a commitment from Georgia State University and Carter Development to do the right thing. “Georgia State University cannot move here and ignore the people who have been living here. If they’re moving in, they need to talk with us. We’ve been around for a long time. So Georgia State: Let’s talk. Let’s make this work.”    

A warrior here to stay
   Clemmie has spent the better part of six decades in Peoplestown, and has no plans to move. She noted jokingly, “before marrying my husband, I told him…if you cannot live in Peoplestown, we’re going to have a problem. That was a condition for us getting married.” And he took her seriously. Clemmie and Paul live together in Peoplestown on Fern Avenue.
And people in the neighborhood are here for Clemmie, just as she is for them.  Longtime resident Columbus Ward notes, “She has spent a long time in this neighborhood. She is a Peoplestown resident who will stand up for her neighbors and fight for others. Once Clemmie makes a commitment to do something, she will carry that commitment forward.” Her work has been recognized by community groups ranging from the 555 club to the REACH for Wellness. She received the 2016 servant leadership award from State Senator Nan Orrock. On Jenkin’s 65th birthday, she was awarded a Proclamation by the City of Atlanta.
   When people from Peoplestown see Clemmie Jenkins approaching them, they know she is going to tell them something important about their community. “I care about my neighborhood, Jenkins notes, “and dedication to others is what makes me who I am.”



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Announcement of Community Benefits Agreement Premature and in Bad Faith

Residents Marched to Turner Filed and set up a tent city on April 1st


Press conference with community leaders and elected officials supporting a real, binding Community Benefits agreement to be held Wednesday April 26th at #TentCityATL, 755 Hank Aaron drive at 10:30am.



GSU and Carter, doing business as Panther Holdings LLC prematurely and in bad faith released the terms of a deal it crafted with a selected group of community members and organizations to the exclusion of the Turner Field Benefits Coalition.  It highlights the heart of Atlanta’s gentrification problem.

In December of 2016 the City of Atlanta and Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority released an RFP for the sale of Turner Field and surrounding parking lots. Panther Holdings was created and awarded a sweetheart deal - for $30 million they got $300 million worth of real estate and tax abatements, too.

From the time of the sale of the Braves the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition - a democratically elected body of residents, community organizations, small businesses and churches - have been actively engaged in developing a community driven Community Benefits Agreement to counter gentrification and prevent displacement of residents.

Nearly two years ago a politically connected faction of the coalition led by Suzanne Mitchell broke away and began private negotiations with Panthers Holding. Mitchell is the sister-in-law of council president Ceasar Mitchell, who curries the favor of the developers Carter and GSU repeatedly stating she "could just pick up the phone and call them." Access denied to the democratically empowered Coalition representing broad stakeholders across five impacted neighborhoods.
Day 12 of #TentCityATL

Just an hour or so before news began to spread that a deal had been reached, Carla Smith, GSU, Oakwood and Carter presented a plan it developed with the selected group of individuals and organizations and without input from the community at-large. Council president Cesar Mitchell along with Council members Felicia Moore, Michael Julian Bond, and Deborah Scott with Partnership for Working Families Founding member & VP National CBA Network participated in the meeting.

The Coalition and its advisor, Maya Dillard Smith, former Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia, were allowed to see documents memorializing this "deal" for the first time. There are actually two deals - one with GSU and one with Cater.


The Coalition requested time to review these documents and a follow-up meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 1, 2017. The conversation centered on the importance of transparency, accountability, inclusion and honesty, which has been missing from the negotiations to date.

Sherise Brown, a long term resident of Peoplestown and core member of the coalition attended yesterday's meeting today and stated, “Although I think our meeting today with panthers holding LLC was productive and moving in the right direction, we have not received a commitment from them for a Community Benefits Agreement. We are looking forward to our follow up meeting with GSU and the developers. At this point we are beginning to build a partnership with Panthers holding LLC. We have not, I repeat we have not, reached any agreement. We are still in discussions.”

GSU student leader Asma Elhuni, who also attended the meeting stated, “Our meeting with Scott Taylor from Carter Developers, Bharath Parthasarathy from Georgia State University, Council members, and the Turner Field Benefits Coalition was productive with promises that the Developers will meet with the Turner field Benefits Coalition. It was made clear to GSU that the University foundation is allowed to sign a CBA. As a student, I am eager to see this happen in the near future so that we hold not only my University accountable to its promises, but also the developers.”

One might imagine The Coalitions surprise upon reading the AJC headline, “GSU-Turner Field Neighborhoods Strike Community Benefits Agreement”.

Tremendous misinformation has been miscommunicated by GSU and Carter in an already confusing environment of alternative facts.
Here are the facts:

1.         The Coalition was funded by the Casey Foundation, the Coalition worked with consultants and legal counsel paid for by Casey with a grant it provided of $90,000. Most of the money received went to consultants. Coalition members did not receive any money, and they participated in good faith to draft CBA defining investments, outcomes and protocols benefiting Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville, and Pittsburgh. These neighborhoods were selected given the immediate and surrounding impact of the project in alignment with the Living Centers Initiative.
2.         As soon as the deal was inked (Purchase/”Closing” took place), Casey pulled its funding. Unbeknownst to the Coalition at the time, Casey provided its $90,000 in services to the coalition, it was simultaneously funding hundreds of thousands in donations to Georgia State University. A clear conflict of interest for an organization which says it's dedicated to neighborhood change. Change, the Casey foundation will benefit from as it owns 14 acres in the affected area of the Turner field project.
3.         Council member Carla Smith received the maximum political contribution of $2500 from Scott Taylor of Carter the day after the deal closed for the sale of Turner Field.  She also received donations from Carter development.
4.         Suzanne Mitchell is negotiating with GSU and Carter in her individual capacity and as a relative of the City Council President, Caesar Mitchell.  She is no longer the president of (ONS) Organized Neighbors of Summerhill.
5.         Mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms served on the City Council while also serving as the chairperson of the Fulton County Recreation Authority.  This represented a clear conflict of interest and the closing documents directed Bottoms to receive 5% of the sale price of Turner Field ($600,000).
The deal and its participants are ripe with conflicts and yet the Coalition continues to show up and engage in good faith. We ask only that the other people at the table do the same.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Faith Leaders to Unite at #TentCityATL

On Tuesday evening at 6:30 pm, faith leaders from different communities in Atlanta will hold a prayer session  for Georgia State University and Carter Development at #TentCityATL (755 Hank Aaron drive). On the days following Easter, faith leaders will pray that GSU and Carter respect the NPU-V community members and include them in development of Turner Field and the surrounding parking lots. They will pray that development projects not drive-out longtime residents as they have before. They will pray that Carter and GSU include community voices in a binding social contract that will ensure development benefits everyone in the community.

On April 1st residents of the area marched to the site formally known as Turner Field and set up a tent city. Residents have been staying there in an act of civil disobedience for 18 days through extreme weather and police intimidation. Our ask is simple; include longterm resident voices in the development of the area and so far Carter and GSU has refused to respond to numerous requests for a meeting.

“For years, we have met with residents across Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh to develop a Community Benefits Agreement to ensure that any development on the 80-acre turner field property benefits the community and our future generations,” explains Deborah Arnold of Mechanicsville who has been camped out since April 1. “More than 1700 of us have participated in community meetings to develop this CBA since the Braves announced they were leaving, but Carter Development and GSU have refused to meet with us, and instead have slandered us and pushed forward plans for development that doesn’t meet community needs.”

We’re drawing a line in the sand. We won’t allow GSU, Carter of any other developer to extract wealth from our community. After suffering through multiple mega developments that promised economic development and delivered broken promises this is our last stand for a community we want to be able to stay in,” says long-term resident and Housing Justice League member Alison Johnson and an organizer of the #TentCityATL. “We no longer have anything to lose. If they aren’t developing with us, they aren’t developing for us.”

Since the #TentCityATL began thousands have signed an online petition to bring Carter and GSU to the table and the story has been covered nationally.