In the decade since the Great Recession, the economic landscape across America has gained considerable stability. Yet neighborhoods in Southwest Atlanta are still recovering. And it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
At the onset of the housing crisis in 2007, it came to light that mortgage fraud hit neighborhoods like Adair Park, Westview, and Pittsburg the hardest. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to drive past these neighborhoods today and still see boarded up houses due to the extreme decimation of the Great Recession.
But, there is a silver lining. In 2011, a group of local concerned realtors, led by founder Derrick Duckworth, started Committed to Communities (CTC). During its start, realtors renovated homes block by block followed by monthly house tours to “encourage residents to strengthen and stabilize their own neighborhoods, to eradicate vacancies, and increase homeownership.”
The early years of Committed to Communities was during a time when the Atlanta BeltLine offered the promise of opportunity, not fear. But there’s still hope for a path that revitalizes Southwest residents, rather than displacing them. In an unprecedented move, Atlanta is requiring zoning of lower cost units from developers, that aspires to ensure a more steady level of affordability.
While the verdict is out on how affordable the Southwest neighborhoods will remain, the dedication of Committed to Communities’ goal of neighborhood revitalization remains steadfast.
Two years ago, Derrick made the organization’s first hire. Tawny Powell became the manager of homebuyer education and counseling, and with her full-time focus came CTC’s shift to a nonprofit, and with that, their first round of programming.
“Three years ago when I was shopping for my house, I attended one of Committed to Communities’ Open House Tours as part of my own home shopping,” says Tawny. “That’s where I met Derrick, who already lived in the neighborhood, and we started having conversations. Since I was moving to Southwest Atlanta, we saw an opportunity to educate and reach people in the neighborhood before they got displaced.”
“We regularly attend neighborhood meetings, events, and in-person outreach in Southwest Atlanta, mostly along the BeltLine neighborhoods, to make sure folks who are currently living here as renters, can stay and have the ability to buy if they so choose. We hope to help suppress displacement as much as we can through affordable homeownership.”
Since their programming launch two years ago, Committed to Communities has helped 20% of Southwest natives attending their workshops, purchase a home in the neighborhood – an overwhelming majority of whom are first-time homebuyers.
“I’m the only full-time staff, so the numbers are pretty strong for what we’ve been able to help the community achieve in two years but we hope to expand our reach even more.”
In the upcoming year, Tawny hopes to offer workshops for up to 50 potential homebuyers, as opposed to their current capacity of 12. She is also looking at new neighborhoods further up the Westside Trail of the BeltLine.
“We have seen a lot of neighborhood change in the last two years, so it’s shifting a bit of our programming. This past year we started holding 203K Home Renovation Workshops which is an alternative route for someone wanting to affordably buy. That will help someone afford a fixer-upper for a lower price, finance the cost to renovate and move in, which is a much more affordable route than if they were to buy a property that was already renovated. It also offers the opportunity for them to potentially move in with some of their own equity.”
“Most of our clients are at 80% of the Area Median Income which is about $39k for a single person. A lot of them don’t come from a background where they have a whole lot of wealth, so the idea that they could generate some wealth through a renovation is exciting to us and to them.”
“There are also more affordable homes in neighborhoods like Grove Park, Dixie Hills, and Mosley Park that offer better prices for our clients who are being priced out of the neighborhoods we are in.”
“People in the community can see what’s coming. We are really working hard on demystifying the myths of homeownership and the myths about the process. It’s also educating folks on what’s available, like down payment assistance programs, and how we can get someone into a home with only $2500 dollars out of pocket. Or showing them the affordability from start to finish, that their closing mortgage can be the same as their rent, and definitely lower than what their rent will be in the next year or two to come.”
While Committed to Communities has received referrals from lenders and real estate agents who have home buyers in need of their educational expertise, the key to their success has come from neighbors who believe in what they are accomplishing.
“We have a few neighbors who are really passionate about our work. They keep us in mind whenever they hear of someone who is a first-time buyer or a young person in need of some education. They send us a lot of referrals because they really believe in what we are doing and have seen it be successful. That is really touching and I love that part of our work most. These individuals aren’t receiving any compensation, they are doing it purely because they care about their community.”
To support Committed to Communities, you can attend their upcoming Best of the West event November 30 at Monday Night Brewing’s Garage. They are also looking for space to host their workshops in 2018. If you or someone you know in Southwest Atlanta have available space, contact Tawny here.
Headline photo and BeltLine art photo are property of Atlanta Curbed. All other photos are property of Committed to Communities.