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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

#TentCityATL Continues; Day 11

ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- More than 40 residents of four of Atlanta’s historically black neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field (Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh) are now in day 10 of a tent city occupation at the site of the former Atlanta Braves stadium in their fight for an accountable community benefits agreement. The fight is quickly becoming a national battleground between community-led organizing for equitable and fair development versus publicly supported luxury development taking place across the nation.

“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.” 
Last year the City of Atlanta sold the public stadium site to Carter Development and Georgia State University. Despite countless asks they have refused to meet with residents and resorted to spreading lies through the media about residents intentions, including implying that all residents want is a cash payout. Such a request has never happened.

“We didn’t make this decision to pitch tents lightly, says Columbus Ward of Peoplestown. “We have families, we have jobs, we have responsibilities. But at the end of the day, Carter, GSU & the city are threatening the very existence of our neighborhoods. This is a fight for our future. For our right to remain and thrive. We refuse to be seen as commodities. We are real people.” 

On Monday residents will get a lift from students of Georgia State University who are organizing an action to call on GSU President Mark Becker to support local residents demands and urge Carter to negotiate a CBA.

“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.”

#TentCityATL is the latest in what are becoming increasingly regular and escalated fights led by working class communities and communities of color to push back against privately funded, publicly supported luxury development across the nation. In March, teenagers from Boston’s Egleston Neighborhood led a 3-night sit-in at the Mayor’s office to demand increased affordable housing and community engagement for development projects in their neighborhood. On March 31, Pittsburgh residents announced a major victory in their campaign to stop the the replacement of 300 units of affordable housing in the historically black East Liberty neighborhood when they got Whole Foods to back out of the development.
Some Atlanta residents aren’t waiting on the city, and are taking the fight to the ballot box. Tanya Washington -- a Peoplestown resident currently under threat of eminent domain related to the Turner Field development -- announced Thursday, she will run for city council after discovering that the city council member that represents her neighborhood has received campaign support from Carter Development.

“We’re not going anywhere,” says #TentCityATL and Housing Justice League organizer Alison Johnson. “Come down and join us. We’re planning actions for May Day, hosting movie nights and building community.”

There has been push back. One needs to look no further than the Peoplestown Next Door website to see all kinds of wild accusations about the #TentCityATL efforts. Although the draft Community Benefits Agreement has zero asks for pay out to individuals or organizations, newer white neighbors continue to claim the effort is about a cash grab. The reality is the Carter and GSU stand to extract billions of dollars from the up and coming neighborhoods and while this might excite already affluent homeowners it has produced a palpable anxiety amongst long term residents that have called these communities home for generations.
Last night a number of students and long term residents held a sit-in at GSU president Mark Becker’s office hoping to facilitate a meeting between Becker and longterm residents. Becker refused and instead had folks in the group, including former state house rep Douglas Dean , who has lived in the Pittsburgh neighborhood for over 50 years. As this blog post is being published, they have yet to be released.

One of the things we often hear is that gentrification is inevitable but around the country regular everyday people are fighting back and winning. #TentCityATL is a line in the sand around the issue of gentrification and mass displacement. At its core is the notion that those that live in a community should have a voice in what happens in it, that residents are not disposable, that there can be room for everyone to survive and thrive.

What can people do to support #TentCityATL?

3.       More than anything there is a need to have folks there. there are regular events organized at #TentCityATL like this one. Donate an hour, donate a day, pop a tent and stand in solidarity with one of the most important fights in the city! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Tent City at Turner Field!

 After the Braves announced that they would be leaving Turner Field residents of Summerhill, Peoplestown, Pittsburgh, and Mechanicsville began meeting to discuss what would become of the almost 80 acres.

 Over the course of almost three years over 1700 residents and countless experts gave input on a Community Benefits Agreement that would ensure that the voice of the community would be included in any development and that whatever ended up at Turner Field wouldn't end up displacing long term residents that are loved and needed in their community.

 Since Carter Development and GSU has purchased the land they have not only refused to meet with residents, they have resorted to spreading lies through the media about residents intentions, including implying that all residents want is a cash payout, such a request has never happened.

 Residents have drawn a line in the sand and simply will not allow GSU, Carter, or any other developer to extract wealth from a community that has suffered through so many bad developments over the years without allowing residents to have a voice and a binding agreement about how their community is developed.

The Neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field have been plagued with mega developments that have brought countless broken promises of economic development. 50 years ago Mechanicsville, Summerhill, Peoplestown, and Pittsburgh were thriving communities. It was a place where one could buy fresh food, go to the doctor, enjoy the theatre, attend a decent school, and enjoy a walkable community. Interstate 75/85, the Fulton County Stadium, the Olympic stadium, and Turner Field have all had detrimental effects on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Each of these developments ended up displacing residents by the thousands and destroying small business in the area.

Today residents say no more. No longer can we allow mega developers to extract wealth from our community without any accountability. If you aren’t developing with us, you aren’t developing for us.
Those that live in the community should have a voice in how it’s developed!

That’s why residents and GSU students are taking a stand by organizing a Tent City, and we invite you to join! Follow the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition and the Housing Justice League on Facebook for updates!

You can support the tent city in several ways!

2. Come down and spend time at the Tent City, 755 Hank Aaron drive, it's a 24 hour occupation and the more people present the more powerful we are!

3. There are a lot of expenses and you can help by making a donation and spreading the word! Click here to donate!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Who is the Beltline For?

This past weekend the Housing Justice League did a day of canvassing with the support of SURJ Atlanta. It's park of an overall effort to gather data for a report that would highlight the impact of Beltline development to low to moderate income residents. 

We know the Beltline has already brought a net loss of affordable housing along the areas that have been complete. As the popular project makes it's way to Adair Park, Pittsburgh, South Atlanta, and Peoplestown we want to make sure that development doesn't displace. If the Beltline is going to be the inclusive beautiful project it was designed to be our city and those working to develop the Beltline must do a better job of making sure that everyone can enjoy it, not just affluent newer residents.

The results we are already seeing are unfortunately not shocking; the Beltline is squeezing out non-rich folks as it snakes it's way around the city. Mega projects like the Beltline and Turner Field beg the question, Who are we developing Atlanta for?

Our hope is that solid research can point us to policies our city can adopt to make sure development can benefit everyone and that long term residents can have the opportunity to stay in their community, to enjoy things like the Beltline instead of being squeezed out to make room for new people.

If you would like to get involved in this project we could use your help! Right now we need help with data analysis, data visualization, mapping, qualitative analysis of surveys and interview data, report writing, and editing.

There will be an open meeting  Saturday March 18th from 11-1pm at Hodge Podge Coffee. Email to get more information on how to plug into this effort!

Do you live in a Beltline neighborhood? If so we need folks to take the survey! It won't take long at all! Click HERE to take online survey.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Turner Field Neighbors Disrespected and Threatened With Arrest Today

Today residents with the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition delivered apetition to Carter Development urging the developer to sit with long term residents to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement. The petition delivery was organized as a result of Carter’s CEO, Scott Taylor’s refusal to meet with the coalition. The coalition, which is comprised over 30 organizations in the community has been trying to have open communication with Carter and GSU ever since the sales process begun. To date the only residents Carter and GSU have been willing to meet with are homeowners in Summerhill more interested in their own property values.

“We want development in our community, we just ask to be included as there’s a history of broken promises in our communities. We want to know that development in our community works for both new and long-term residents, a binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is a huge step in that direction.” Stated long term resident and coalition member Alison Johnson.

Once residents showed up to Cater Development's office to deliver the petition they were met with extremely aggressive building representatives that threatened to have them arrested immediately. Some staff even put hands on residents who simply intended to deliver a petition to Scott Taylor.  Residents decided to kneel down and pray for their community but building staff seemed set on yelling over clergy’s prayer, yelling, “Get out now!”, as Imam Furqan A Muhammad with the Masjid Al Muminun Mosque, which is in Peoplestown, led the group in prayer.
Today what could have been a simple petition delivery urging a conversation with residents ended up highlighting the extreme disrespect and disdain that both Carter Development, GSU, and some city officials have demonstrated through the whole Turner Field sale process. If Atlanta is going to be a city that works for everyone then this unsustainable, backroom deal approach to mega developments must change.
Carter and GSU along with our city officials did not plan with the communities. This was a backdoor deal which as stated above, is full of conflicts of interest.  They disrespected the democratic process used to create the CBA and they ignored the communities and refused to allow them a seat at table. They took the alternate route and bypassed the people, because they decided the people don’t matter. 
 Many residents are disappointed and scared of what this may mean for their community. “This is a hostile takeover of our communities for profit. This is ethnic cleansing.” These back door deals happen because low-income, minority communities and long-term residents are not valued as stakeholders and partners. “Instead we are looked upon as outsiders by insiders.” 
For fifty years, the communities surrounding Turner Field have been neglected, an almost forgotten footnote in Atlanta’s race to prove it is the “city too busy to hate.”

Once thriving neighborhoods fell victim to the economic priorities of others: busy interstates divided communities and families; stadiums rose and fell, flooding communities with crime and raw sewage; local schools were neglected and underfunded; and promises for positive development were as empty as the scores of parking lots that litter the area.

Now, there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change all this.
It’s called the Turner Field Community Benefit Agreement (CBA). A Community Benefits Agreement is a legally-binding contract with the developer that describes mutually-agreed and enforceable goals for the development project. This agreement is driven by local residents and the over 40 community organizations that make up the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition.

What would a CBA mean for our communities? A world of difference–for everyone. A well implemented CBA could alleviate flooding; improve transportation and create new public space; provide jobs for residents and create opportunities for training, education and services for people of all ages; create housing for people of all incomes and prevent displacement of existing residents; and make our streets and communities safer and cleaner, while providing places to shop for people in the neighborhood.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Activating Tenant Power!

 Today the Housing Justice League launch it's new tenant leadership development training series which will take place every month at a different apartment complex and include smaller trainings in between each month based on the needs of each complex.

The first training was help at City Views at Rosa Burney in historic Mechanicsville. Resident leaders and new tenants came together to learn how to strengthen their tenant association and how to connect with other tenant associations to win victories around better HUD contracts, better living conditions, and stronger affordable housing policy in the city. The trainings are open to any tenant that want to begin the process of building or strengthening a tenant association of tenant union.

If you are a tenant that would like to receive training there are two ways to go about it. You can message the Housing Justice League at about attending the next scheduled training, or you can inquire about hosting a training at your complex. This service is provided by the Housing Justice League at no cost. Now more then ever Atlanta needs a tenant movement to combat rising rents and unbridled development.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Quakers to Trump: Sanctuary, Not Walls

Quakers to Trump: Sanctuary, Not Walls
AFSC speaks out on executive orders, urges congressional action

WASHINGTON, DC (January 25, 2017) Today, President Donald Trump announced sweeping executive actions that would expand the border wall, cut federal funding to sanctuary cities and increase the number of people Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will target for deportation. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) – a Quaker organization that has worked for immigrant and refugee rights for almost 100 years – denounced these policies as dangerous and divisive.

“For more than two decades, border wall infrastructure has contributed to the deaths of thousands of migrants fleeing poverty and violence who are forced to cross through deadly terrain,” said Pedro Rios, director of AFSC’s U.S./Mexico Border Program. “This human rights disaster will only be exacerbated with more miles of border walls and excessive, unaccountable enforcement.” While Trump’s executive action paves the way for wall construction, additional congressional action will be needed to fully fund the project. AFSC is calling on Congress to do everything in their power to stop wall construction and to protect the human rights of migrants and those in border communities.

Trump also signed an executive order limiting federal funding to “sanctuary cities.” More than 350 jurisdictions across the country have enacted policies prohibiting local officials from taking actions like asking people about their immigration status, holding people so ICE can detain them, or sharing information with ICE. 

“Limiting collusion between ICE and local law enforcement has been an essential first step to keeping our communities and families safe from unjust deportation policies,” said AFSC’s policy impact coordinator Kathryn Johnson. “We’re calling on congress to respect the Fourth Amendment and oppose legislation that punishes ‘sanctuary cities.’”

The executive orders also dramatically expand the number of Customs and Border Patrol agents, call for aggressive immigration enforcement within the country, and for mandatory detention at the border – including of children and families.

“These policies are immoral, astronomically expensive, racially discriminatory, and threaten to tear apart families and communities” said Johnson. “That’s why AFSC and our partners across this country and around the world are standing together to demand congress oppose these priorities.”

AFSC’s programs outside the U.S. are also voicing concerns. “Through our work in Central America and Mexico we know that many people fleeing to the U.S. are doing so because of violence and extreme poverty,” said Douglas Juarez, AFSC’s Regional Migration Program Coordinator. “Closing the U.S.’s doors to these children, women and men puts their lives at risks as they are returned to the danger they fled. These problems must not be addressed through security and militarization, but through following international law and respecting everyone’s right to migrate.”

But AFSC and other organizations are not just waiting for congress to take action. They have launched a campaign, called #SanctuaryEverywhere, to help everyday people protect each other from these attacks. According to Lori Khamala, who directs AFSC’s immigrant rights program in North Carolina, they hope to equip thousands of people with training and tools to create sanctuary wherever they are.

Says Khamala, “whether we are welcoming refugees or working to stop deportations; protecting religious groups who have been targeted and attacked; working to ensure that Black Lives Matter by interrupting anti-Black violence; or protecting the rights of LGBTQI people, we are all in this together.”    

# # #

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Turner Field Neighbors and Students Unite to Fight GSU/Carter Development Sponsored Gentrification

Press conference before council meeting
On Tuesday, Jan.17th, one day after Atlanta celebrated MLK day, Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition (TFCBC) residents and students packed City Hall to speak out against Turner Field stadium purchasers. On Dec.31st, 2016, Georgia State University and its development partners closed a purchase deal to acquire Turner Field stadium and its surrounding lots. This deal, however, did not include the detailed Community Benefits Agreement TFCBC has researched and arranged over the past two years. GSU and Carter Development have taken a stance of non-negotiation, and no-CBA, despite active outreach by Turner Field residents to the contrary. The refusal to include a Community Benefits Agreement in the purchase deal, first through the sale by the City, and later in the purchase by GSU, has created a climate of non-negotiation. Without a CBA, there is no guarantee that development in and around Turner Field will not displace families, nor economically benefit residents who remain. The welfare of the Turner Field Neighborhoods, and especially its most low-income residents, has been dramatically de-prioritized by the City of Atlanta, and their future neighbor, Georgia State University.
Students join residents at the MLK march the day before

In response to these actions of disregard, on Tuesday, residents and students spoke out. Protest began when Mayor Kasim Reed took the podium at City Hall. Dozens turned their backs in silence to Reed, who has overseen the stadium’s sale and its subsequent (mis)allocation of purchase funds. They remained standing throughout Reed’s speech, physically filling most of the audience space. Reed exited the council, but not TFCBC’s protest. 

Community members turn their back as Mayor Reed speaks
Residents and students again took the floor during public comment. For nearly four hours, Morehouse and Spellman College students, Peoplestown residents, GSU students, NPU-V district chairs, and Housing Justice League organizers spoke out against the CBA’s absence in the Turner Field purchase deal. Senator Vincent Fort detailed the history of the Turner Field neighborhoods, and how the purchasers’ refusal to sign a CBA was only the latest in a string of unfriendly developments. “The residents of Peoplestown and beyond have been put under the thumb of developers for far too long. Their priorities for their community need to be raised up. The Turner Field Neighborhoods demand a Community Benefits Agreement that acknowledges their humanity. No CBA, No Deal!”

“Without the CBA in the sale of Turner Field, the community was not promised safety, not promised job security, not promised the right to stay in their homes. It is violent that the City of Atlanta would undertake such a sale, in complete disregard of residents’ welfare,” noted Agnes Scott activist Idil Hussein.

Throughout the comment session, speakers gave statements of high intensity that directly addressed the City and GSU’s failure to negotiate with residents. Spellman activist Eva Dickerson indicted City Council representatives as unsatisfying black female role models, and highlighted the need for non-official black woman activists to take on leadership and direct political change. GSU activist Sam Hogan recorded dissatisfaction with Georgia State University and Carter Development for continuing to undercut residents. HJL staff member and tenant organizer Sherise Brown demanded greater transparency from the City in its development negotiations. “The City only met with a few residents from Summerhill during the purchase negotiation…and the same with GSU and Carter. This hand-picking of residents does not give other neighbors the opportunity to voice their concerns…and it leads to purchase deals like this one, with no CBA.”

Morehouse activist and ATL is Ready organizer Avery Jackson noted during public comment, “This loud, clear-spoken collection of students standing alongside black communities against city-wrought gentrification…this is the new unchained, unregulated politics of 2017. We are not here to ask questions or demand change. We are here to re-set the negotiation table so that community voices can never not be heard.”
Public officials and development stakeholders have often argued that any Community Benefits Agreement negotiation is cost-prohibitive. But, they fail to acknowledge that the investments and priorities addressed by the CBA could be funded entirely from the sale proceeds of Turner Field.

“The sale has thus far generated at least $30 million in revenue, but has been invested into another corporate-sponsored stadium rather than the Turner Field Neighborhood communities. Eminent domain law has been used as a tool of urban gentrification, allowing the City to land-grab from the Turner Field neighborhoods,” noted Housing Justice coordinator Tim Franzen and PRC president Columbus Ward. Short of revising the eminent domain ruling and regaining land, TFCBC members seek to orient the development process in ways that would benefit the community. Repaved streets, better insulated schools, and more fresh produce-carrying grocery stores would all be small examples of such a process, and indeed, are the objectives of a CBA.  
Students sit-in during City Council meeting

After the speakout ended, students took to the chamber floors for a sit-in. They broadcast a Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King speech as councilmembers conducted their affairs, twirled car keys, drew silent attention to Councilwoman Carla Smith, and altogether unsettled business as usual. This creative resistance will amplify if and as the Turner Field purchase deal moves forward without a Community Benefits Agreement. TFCBC activists are redoubling their commitment to stop inequitable development in their community.