Affordable housing

In February, a consultant delivered a report to the City of Decatur (Ga.) on teardowns and their impacts in the community. Tucked away in the report were two pages on how the city was meeting affordable housing objectives laid out in a 2008 report by the same consultant.

Affordable housing was one of several topics in the consultant’s report, Decatur Infill Housing Analysis. New homes, wrote the consultant, are “more expensive” than the older homes torn down. “This is resulting in a shift in the economics of the respective neighborhood and in what income levels are needed to reside in the community.” Consultant Market+Main added, “More cities are focused on this side of the infill issue and in wanting to preserve viable housing opportunities for the income levels represented by the older homes.”

But not Decatur, Ga.

According to the 2014 report, the City has implemented only one out of ten affordable housing objectives. The City’s consultant wrote,

The Decatur Affordable Housing Study was completed in 2008 and provided a thorough review of the affordability of housing in the City of Decatur. Even as the nation and the region emerge from the economic setback of “the Great Recession,” this analysis and its recommendations are still applicable today. The following highlights from this study support the need for housing affordability in Decatur. Many of these are also un-implemented to-date and all steps should be taken to act upon and implement the findings of this study.

  • Generate and/or allocate a dedicated public funding stream to provide a partial grant and/or loan to mortgage eligible workforce affordable potential home buyers for home purchases within Decatur. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Create an allocation of local public grant and/or loan funding for renovation of existing Decatur homes and purchase by mortgage eligible workforce households. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Establish a down payment assistance fund to provide a portion of the required down payments for eligible workforce affordable homeownership candidates. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Establish a Homeownership Rehabilitation Program (HRP) which provides developers, both for-profit and non-profit, with a subsidy for the rehabilitation of vacant and/or deteriorated houses to be sold to income eligible home buyers. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Increase workforce affordable homeownership through the formation of a community land trust. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Encourage the development of new for-sale housing product types in Decatur other than detached single-family homes. PARTIALLY IMPLEMENTED.
  • Encourage and exploit existing opportunities for additional infill of the Decatur downtown core. PARTIALLY IMPLEMENTED.
  • Create design guidelines that define appropriate design concept solutions to allow higher density mixed use infill in targeted areas, such as commercial corridors and the downtown core to be used in conjunction with overlay zoning. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Preserve “the image of a traditional and intimate small-town center” to achieve the price points and quantities needed to fill the Decatur workforce affordability gap. NOT IMPLEMENTED.
  • Permit “granny flats” and other accessory dwelling units on existing residential parcels. IMPLEMENTED.

Source: Market+Main, Decatur Infill Housing Analysis (February 2014), pp. 6-7


Oh, crepe

One of the benefits of editing a community newsletter like Candler Park’s Messenger is meeting lots of interesting neighbors and folks who do business in the neighborhood. March 15 was Hungarian Independence Day so I stopped by the crepe stand that appears each weekend on the northeast corner of Oakdale Rd. and McLendon Ave. to chat with its proprietors for an article that I plan to write for next month’s issue.

While waiting for owner Maria Nagy to arrive I interviewed her ex-husband, Tamás, as he was making crepes for passersby. Here he is making a strawberry crepe and explaining a little bit about the traditional European food that’s become a staple of American street corners and festivals.

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

Decatur’s fifth estate

Today the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on racism in Decatur, Ga. (AJC article is behind the paper’s paywall.) The article was published seven months after I emailed and texted Atlanta and Decatur reporters and bloggers about black men being racially profiled by Decatur police during a summer 2013 “crime wave.” None of my emails or texts received replies.

iMessage, David Rotenstein to Creative Loafing's Thomas Wheatley, July 18, 2013.

iMessage, David Rotenstein to Creative Loafing news editor Thomas Wheatley, July 18, 2013.

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The profile

Decatur, Ga., resident Don Denard was stopped by Decatur police officers for “walking while black.” After having his racial profiling complaint dismissed by a Decatur Police Department internal investigation, Denard and his friends and supporters went to city hall. The video embedded above was compiled from the February 18, 2014 session.



Recommended reading:


The hex on our sidewalks

Sidewalks: we’re lucky that we have them. Just ask people who live in America’s sprawling suburbs and some of the Atlanta, Ga., region’s new cities. Author Jane Jacobs considered them essential to the urban fabric. Sidewalks move people, connect places, and they are key, wrote Jacobs to healthy neighborhoods and cities. Although Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood is connected by sidewalks as old as the neighborhood itself, they don’t always work well because many stretches have been damaged by vehicles and roots or have not been well maintained.

Damaged sidewalk, Atlanta's Candler Park neighborhood. Photo by author.

Damaged sidewalk, Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood. Photo by author.

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Sorting Decatur, Ga.


Source: U.S. Census.

I was putting together a PowerPoint for my program on gentrification in Decatur, Ga.’s Oakhurst neighborhood and I added this chart. Decatur has lost more than 50% of its African American population since 1980. According to data posted on the City’s website (unconfirmed), the latest (2013) breakdown of the Decatur’s demographics have it at 74.1% white and 19.5% black. In 2010 it was 78.3 white and 21.7 black. In three years, Decatur lost an additional 2.2 percent of its African American population while gaining new residents of different ethnicities.

… we continue to attract a diverse population with a wide range of age groups, racial backgrounds and economic levels. — City of Decatur website

Since 1970 most of the city’s African Americans have lived in the Oakhurst neighborhood. This chart graphically illustrates gentrification’s replacement power.

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

The Decatur “Plan”

“The Plan” is deeply embedded in Washington, D.C., urban lore. According to Washington author Harry Jaffe,

“The plan” is a persistent conspiracy theory among many blacks in the District. It assumes that whites have had a plan to take back the nation’s capital city since the advent of home rule in the 1970s, when the city started electing blacks to local office. The white power structure is bent on moving blacks out and whites in, and it will always control the levers of power.

The Washington “Plan” is easily dismissed as contemporary conspiracy theory that dates to 1979. Academics, journalists, and pundits generally agree that despite demographic changes to the city once dubbed “Chocolate City,” there is no systematic plan to relocate Washington’s black residents beyond the District limits.

Decatur-Dekalb News, 1960.

Decatur-Dekalb News, 1960.

Although Decatur, Ga., has never had an African American “power structure” despite having a whole two African American city commissioners in its 191-year history, longtime black residents believe that Decatur does have a “plan” to eliminate them from the city’s ranks. Like Washington, the demographic data support popular observations that Decatur’s black population is declining. And, like Washington, that trend is easily explained by market forces and gentrification. Continue reading


October 2013 wasn’t the first time the Decatur, Ga., City Commission heard pleas from residents of the gentrifying Oakhurst neighborhood to halt the disintegration of their community. In February 2003 another group of Oakhurst residents asked the City Commission to “have their backs.”

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Antioch’s eyes (Updated)

Antioch. They call it Hibernia now but it was on Atlanta Avenue. I watched my neighbors sell ice cream, fish sandwiches, having teas and dinners, sacrificing to buy the windows and to buy the bricks. I mean they were doing labors of love, you know, and trying to pass it on to the next generation. And when I pass by the building now, it almost breaks my heart because they were working the sweat of their brows, trying to establish a place for this generation. — Sarah Kirk, March 2012.

Former Antioch church facade, Jan. 2014.

Former Antioch church facade, Jan. 2014.

Sarah Kirk¹ recently drove by an abandoned brick church north of Hibernia Ave. in Decatur, Ga. The 75-year-old Decatur native had heard that the property had been sold. Built for the congregation in which her family had worshipped since the last decades of the nineteenth century, she was struck by the gutted edifice. The building’s last congregation, Decatur United Church of Christ, had acquired the property from Antioch AME Church, one of Decatur’s oldest African American religious institutions.

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The fellmonger’s office

Wool pulling. Credit: Rudolf A. Clemen, By-Products in the Packing Industry (1927).

Wool pulling. Credit: Rudolf A. Clemen, By-Products in the Packing Industry (1927).

Fellmongers disappeared from the American industrial landscape in the last century. They were specialized meat and leather industry byproducts dealers who also prepared skins and leather from lamb pelts removed in slaughterhouses. In 2000, the last American fellmongers processed a batch of wool inside the Pittsburgh Wool Company. The exercise was captured in a documentary film produced for the Pittsburgh History Center and was documented in reports I prepared for the History Center and for the National Park Service (now in the Library of Congress: HAER No. PA-572).


James Callery’s Duquesne tannery (right) shortly after it was built. It later became the Pittsburgh Wool Company. The site on the Allegheny River north shore had tanneries and wool pulleries there continuously from the 1830s through 2000.

Pittsburgh Wool Company facade, 1996. Photo by author.

Pittsburgh Wool Company facade, 1996. Photo by author.

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