Tuesday, February 13, 2018

#BeltLine4All Campaign Holds First in a Series of Popular Education Workshops

On February 8, Housing Justice League’s BeltLine for All campaign held the first of four workshops in our BeltLine for All popular education workshop series. The workshop took place at Heritage Station Apartments in the Pittsburgh neighborhood just south of downtown.

The evening’s discussion featured Housing Justice League’s recent community-led research project which focuses on the development process of the BeltLine and the effects it is having on rising costs and displacement in low-income communities, especially in the Southside. The central message emphasized throughout the workshop was made clear: “We have to get organized!” You too can join our campaign by reading and signing our petition to tell policymakers that it is unconscionable for a city with resources as great as Atlanta’s to incentivize the continued extraction of wealth from our communities.  

While issues of disinvestment and political marginalization in Southside neighborhoods are nothing new and are well understood by longtime Southside residents, Housing Justice League understands our research on the BeltLine as a way for residents to consider present-day manifestations of racism in public policy and the imminent threat gentrification is posing in Atlanta. In entering these conversations we understand that we are “preaching to the choir,” as one Pittsburgh resident put it. But we also know that as racism and exploitation are fought, they evolve to evade public awareness and criticism, all the while continuing the same basic function: maintaining the power of an elite minority and destroying practices of democracy that uphold political priorities of equity and justice.

For this reason, our workshop linked the historical patterns of racial segregation and disinvestment to present-day “public-private partnerships” that give power to private investors and break apart low-income communities of color. Historically, the federal and city governments channeled public money into the suburbs and deprived the Black “inner city” of needed public infrastructure and social services through practices like redlining, federally-backed housing mortgages for whites, and highway construction. In the 1990s the Atlanta city government destroyed public housing and began a shift away from public authorities control of urban development towards control by private investors. Alison Johnson, member and longtime resident leader with the Housing Justice League emphasized the loss of not only housing during this period, but also an organized political force of tenants who were able to make strong demands of local government. The destruction of public housing complexes was a direct attack upon the social networks and housing stability that helped make these forms of social and political organization possible.

Corporate elites pushed for policies that gave tax cuts to the wealthy and turned government-controlled public services over to the whims of for-profit private corporations. This was exemplified in the 1990s through the development of the Georgia Dome and the Olympics Stadium which had catastrophic effects for surrounding communities. Because cities lack funding and are controlled by for-profit interests, they rely more on “privatized” models of urban development that depend on attracting private investment. It is easy for investors to buy out black communities and make a profit because land is cheap from decades of disinvestment and the government does not protect the poor against rising prices and displacement.

In our workshop, this information served as context for explaining the effects of the public-private partnership overseeing the BeltLine’s development, which is spurring on patterns of gentrification and displacement on a large scale. The BeltLine is displacing residents at an alarming rate as rents and property taxes along its path path shoot up, and its plan for developing affordable housing is far behind schedule. We are losing affordable housing in Atlanta at a rate far greater than the rate at which it is being built.

The BeltLine for All campaign team’s goal is that this information can serve as an alert to the immediacy of the threat of gentrification in Southside communities and as a starting point for collective action on whatever residents identify as the most pressing issues that they want to take on. Following our presentation we opened up a discussion to talk about different concerns and what action the community might consider taking. We heard residents’ own observations about the rapid changes occurring in Pittsburgh and other issues the community faces. One of the issues that came up the most was the train consistently stopping across McDaniel Street, blocking traffic for hours or even days at a time and disrupting neighborhoods blowing its horn often as late as 2:00 a.m. One senior resident commented, “I’d like to see that train not inhibit my health,” explaining that the train poses a very serious danger to seniors at Heritage Station because it could cause a delay in getting to the emergency room.

Other topics residents raised were related more directly to gentrification. One resident talked about how she had noticed that the recently renovated homes near her are only for sale, with none for rent. “They are all for sale and many Pittsburgh residents are older and living on a fixed income. They are not able to start buying homes,” she explained. Katrina Monroe-Pettway, a Pittsburgh resident and representative for the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer Foundation, which specializes in unjust housing issues, spoke about an alarming number of contractor signs that went up all down her street just before Thanksgiving. Commenting on all the changes that have been happening, one person said her question is, “but are they going to be good for me? Where am I going to go?”

Towards the end of the workshop, many residents expressed interest in organizing to take on some of the issues residents of Southside Atlanta and Pittsburgh face, and many people asked for suggestions on what to do. To this HJL leaders Alison Johnson and Deborah Arnold’s response was, “you have to get organized.” Alison talked about the historic importance of NPUs and tenant associations holding power in Atlanta and explained that an approach where HJL and other housing justice organizations across the country have found a lot of success is through tenant organizing. Tenant associations bring neighbors together to pool knowledge and strengthen trust and power within the community which makes organizing to address immediate issues within a complex possible, as well as broader issues within the community and the city.  A number of attendees committed to attending Housing Justice League’s next mass meeting to learn more about tenant organizing and our upcoming program that will offer more consistent training and support for tenant associations. The central message of the night, “you have to get organized!” was also emphasized by the audience when Alison asked the attendees what they thought they should do. Their answers were “ all high rises should have an organization team” and “we need an organization!”

To review the Beltline report click here

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Stanton Oaks Tenants Rally Outside their Complex After Safety Concerns go Unanswered for Months

 Stanton Oaks Tenant Association, a member organization of Housing Justice League, held a rally on January 24 that was successful in getting the owners of their apartment complex to promise to re-install the tenants’ security doors within two weeks, after brushing aside tenants’ concerns for months. The owners of the complex, the Woda Group Inc., removed the metal security doors from every unit’s front door before a HUD REAC inspection back in October without any warning or explanation, causing a threat to residents’ safety.

At the time of their removal, the Woda Group promised to replace the doors in a timely manner. But after taking the time to go through the different chains of command, writing letters, and meeting with local and corporate management, the Woda Group suddenly informed Stanton Oaks Tenant Association that they would not get their doors back. “As tenants we have a right to live in a safe space and after months of waiting for the Woda Group to take our concerns seriously we decided to organize a rally in front of the complex office in hopes to have the issue addressed. Many of us are living in fear every day,” said the tenant association’s president and long term tenant, Sherise Brown.

At the rally, tenants expressed deep concern about their community’s safety without their security doors and tried to bring awareness to their situation. Jacqueline Lawrence talked about how the door of apartment next to hers had been kicked in. "It was just tore up and the door was just standing open," said Lawrence. "It didn't take any time. They were in there in about a minute." When Lawrence made a report of the incident to the apartment management, the management tried to place the blame on her asking why she hadn’t called the police, rather than recognizing the need for the doors’ re-installment.

The Woda was able to get away with ignoring the concerns of the Stanton Oaks tenants for several months because property owners understand that tenants’ rights often go unenforced in a society that privileges the interests of management companies and property owners with wealth over those with lesser means. Uniting with other tenants however builds power to draw attention to problems and get them resolved. There are many more tenants than landlords, and when it comes down to it, it is actually the landlords who are dependent on tenants for paying their rent. And with the rapid gentrification occurring in Atlanta and increasing profitability of luxury developments, it is more important than ever for tenants to protect their right to affordable housing. The Stanton Oaks Tenant Association’s rally was a demonstration of collective power and it got undeniable and immediate results for tenants. Housing Justice League stands with Stanton Oaks as they continue working to address the need for safer lighting around the complex and other issues.
Watch local CBS coverage of the story.

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.


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.”