4 Atlanta neighborhoods facing gentrification get help for residents

The city of Atlanta is partnering with the private sector to help residents in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods stay in their homes as gentrification approaches.

Mayor Kasim Reed on Wednesday unveiled the Anti-Displacement Tax Fund, a program funded with corporate and philanthropic dollars to help residents in the Westside Atlanta neighborhoods of Vine City, English Avenue, Ashview Heights and the Atlanta University Center area pay increasing rents and tax bills as their property becomes more valuable.

“This program means that working folks will be able to maintain and live in the communities that they love,” Reed said.

Gentrification of Atlanta neighborhoods has become a major issue as dissatisfaction with the metro area’s endless traffic congestion, the popularity of Atlanta BeltLine and the promise of new tech jobs in Midtown and Buckhead are driving people to move into the city. That has created a boon on apartment construction and sent home prices soaring in once affordable neighborhoods such as Old Fourth Ward.

Rents in the Vine City, English Avenue and other nearby areas — once a place few metro Atlantans would venture — have increased as much as 38 percent over the last four years, according to a recent Georgia Tech study. And officials said efforts to remake the area because of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium has attracted speculators grabbing up available land in hopes of turning a profit.

The Anti-Displacement Tax Fund, which officials hope will raise as much as $5 million, will be funded by philanthropic donations from corporations and foundations, such as the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, the Chick-fil-Foundation and Georgia Power.

Westside Future Fund — an initiative created in 2014 by Reed and the Atlanta Committee for Progress — will oversee the program. No tax dollars are expected to be used.

Future Fund Executive Director John Ahmann said the program could span the next 15 to 20 years. The goal is to make sure disadvantaged neighborhoods get to share in the city’s prosperity, he said.

Applicants should have an annual household income below 100 percent of the area’s median income and must have lived in their homes for at least one year. The annual median income for a family of four, for instance, is about $67,500.

About 43 percent of families residing in the four neighborhoods live below the poverty line, according to the Westside Future Fund. Slightly more than 15,500 people live in the communities, which have lost 60 percent of their population since 1960.

Resident Thelma Benton, 72, thanked Reed for addressing the issue and offering to help those living on the margins. Benton, who has lived in the English Avenue area for at least two decades, said it was hard enough just keeping up with the increases over the years in water and sewer bills, so higher rents because of gentrification would definitely be unbearable.

“I feel a whole lot better,” she said about the discussion with Reed.

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