A fine dust settled on the shoulders of Cabbagetown as Chico Harper's bulldozer started knocking down houses.
After seven years of talk and legal battles, residents of the southeast Atlanta mill town were finally able to see action.
"Finally. Finally! Somebody is actually doing something in Cabbagetown instead of talking about it," said a giddy Joyce Brookshire, president of a Cabbagetown neighborhood organization.
Mayor Andrew Young shared the driver's seat on the dozer to demolish the first of six vacant houses that fell Thursday. Construction and renovation will begin in January on about 25 houses, which will be sold at low cost with low interest rates to poor and middle-income residents and former residents of Cabbagetown.
The hum and rattle of the bulldozer may also signal a larger renaissance of efforts to improve housing in Atlanta. Ground is being broken in three ways by the Cabbagetown project:
For the first time in this city, a non-profit housing project has the full support of the city's largest banks. The $780,000 construction loan has been promised by Citizens and Southern National Bank (C&S), and $800,000 in home loans will be made by the Atlanta Mortgage Consortium, a group of nine banks and savings and loans.
For the first time, Atlanta city government has let neighborhood leaders call the shots for a housing project. The non-profit Cabbagetown Restoration and Future Trust (CRAFT) is buying the properties from the city, hiring the developer and choosing the homeowners.
And for the first time, a major suburban developer has donated his services to a large inner-city housing project. John Wieland Homes has agreed to build the homes at cost, demonstrating that construction costs for inner-city homes can be kept below $45,000.
The project in Cabbagetown could reverse one of the city's greatest failures in providing affordable housing. In 1981, the city of Atlanta loaned $400,000 in federal funds to an earlier Cabbagetown neighborhood cooperative, which became tangled in internal and external squabbles.
The $400,000 from the city bought the land, but the Fulton Cooperative Village was unable to secure rehabilitation money from any bank. Seven years later, most of the houses are vacant and deteriorating, many beyond repair. A lawsuit by some new Cabbagetown residents against the city ended with the properties back in the city's hands.
A bailout was engineered by the Atlanta Economic Development Agency, a quasi-public body that previously has developed industrial parks but now has taken on neighborhood redevelopment as a priority.
First, the city accepted a bid for most of the properties from CRAFT, a new neighborhood organization intent on preserving the neighborhood from "outside urban pioneers" like those who had sued the city.
Next, the city helped CRAFT apply for a $55,000 grant it received from the Metropolitan Atlanta Community Foundation to buy land.
And the city helped negotiate the loans from C&S and the Atlanta Mortgage Consortium. The consortium was formed in May after articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described a lack of home lending in black neighborhoods. Cabbagetown is a white inner-city neighborhood, but the consortium is supporting other projects in black neighborhoods.
In addition to CRAFT, two other non-profit housing developers, Habitat for Humanity and Interfaith, have plans to build houses in Cabbagetown. The Atlanta Mortgage Consortium says it hopes to finance those homes also.
To handle the actual development, CRAFT has hired the South Atlanta Land Trust, a non-profit Methodist organization that has demonstrated its abilities by energizing other poor neighborhoods.
"The significance of today is that the banks in the city have a newfound religion, endorsing the work of a neighborhood non-profit group," said the Rev. W. Craig Taylor of the Methodist Wesley Community Centers. "If we're really going to do anything significant in this city about housing, we have to have the banks involved, the city involved, the major housing developers involved."
Knocking down houses is easy. Knocking down the skepticism of Cabbagetown residents will take a little longer.
"Most folks are sick of it. They've been told a thousand times that something's going to happen," Ms. Brookshire said. "That's the reason for a ground-breaking. Now they can see something happening."
After the speeches, the residents met inside their Savannah Street Neighborhood House for refreshments and song. Ms Brookshire sang her "Cabbagetown Ballad," about mountain folk who came to work in the cotton mill and stayed after the mill owners pulled out.
"We're a mountain clan called Cabbagetown in the city of Atlanta, GA," the refrain goes, "and if it be the will of God, it's where we'll always stay."Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting
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