Solidarity With Neighbors Resisting Displacement

On March 19, some 40 MADSA members and friends, including students and professors from five area universities (Ga. State, Ga. Tech, Clayton State, Emory and Clark Atlanta), drew inspiration from and expressed solidarity with inner-city Atlanta residents who are resisting displacement by gentrification and stadium development. “Resilience, Tenacity and Self-Determination in Peoplestown, Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh and Summerhill” was the fifth annual bus tour of troubled neighborhoods sponsored by MADSA. Co-sponsors were Occupy Our Homes Atlanta (OOHA) and the Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation (PRC, #peoplestownwillnotgodown).

PRC President Columbus Ward and OOHA’s Tim Franzen provided background and accompanied the buses to meetings with neighborhood activists. The tours were initiated and are coordinated by Georgia Tech Professor Emeritus and MADSA member Larry Keating, author of an excellent survey of the devastation wrought on Atlanta’s black inner-city neighborhoods in recent decades: Race, Class and Urban Expansion. MADSA is an endorser and supporter of the Turner Fields Community Benefits Coalition, which represents the neighborhoods affected by the new stadium development.

We visited two affordable housing complexes privately owned but subsidized by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, Stanton Oaks (formerly Boynton Village) and Rosa Burney. Federal funding gave the tenants leverage to organize against their landlords, who had neglected the properties in hopes of selling them or turning them into more lucrative enterprises. Leaders Sherise Brown of the Boynton Village Tenants Association and Deborah Arnold, president of the City View at Rosa Berne Residents Association, among others, spoke eloquently of the power that can result from united community action. Both tenant associations have won improvements and/or extensions of their complexes’ HUD contracts, although tenants at Rose Burney still endure a bedbug invasion.

Sen. Vincent Fort and Mattie Jackson

In Peoplestown, we heard from three homeowners who have refused to abandon their houses so the City of Atlanta could replace them with a park and floodwater retention pond even though those homes had never flooded. Mattie Jackson, 93 years old, recently won the right to keep her home in the neighborhood where she was born, thanks to her determination and public support from OOHA and others. The tour’s final stop introduced us to the “Peace by Piece House,” a donated house and lot that a collective of young activists and other local volunteers are turning into a community organizing center and adjacent vegetable garden, with support from the American Friends Service Committee.

Columbus Ward and resident install a sign.

For the tour’s finale, we put our solidarity into action by planting signs in front of empty lots and boarded-up houses on all sides of the Peoplestown resisters’ block, reading: REZONED FOR GENTRIFICATION. For lack of transparency and no communication whatsoever, please contact the Office of Whitewashing and Community Displacement. [Followed by Mayor Kasim Reed’s office phone number.]

A Housing Justice Movement meeting will take place at 7 pm, Tues. April 19 at the McDevitt Youth Center, 1040 Crew St., Atlanta, GA 30315. For more information: A. Johnson, 404-521-9070.

(All photos by Reid Freeman Jenkins.)