The large crowd of students, social activists, and community activists gathered eagerly at the Peoplestown Community Center in Atlanta, Georgia, on a Saturday in March. They were about to get on board for the annual Metro Atlanta DSA (MADSA) bus tour of “Resilience, Tenacity and Self-Determination in Peoplestown, Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh and Summerhill.” Designed to shine a light on inner-city Atlanta and the challenges faced by residents due to rapid gentrification, the tour is co-sponsored by longtime MADSA coalition partners Occupy Our Homes Atlanta (OOHA) and the Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation (PRC). Our tour guides of the evening were Tim Franzen of OOHA and Columbus Ward, president of the PRC.
First stop was the Stanton Oaks community in the Peoplestown neighborhood. Formerly called the Boynton Village Apartments, this facility is privately owned but heavily subsidized by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency. The owner of Stanton Oaks planned to let the property fall into such disrepair that at the end of the HUD contract the federal agency would not renew that agreement. This action would allow the owner to sell units at market rates and turn a taxpayer-subsidized profit.
Everything was going as planned until the tenants, led by Sherise Brown, created the Boynton Village Tenant Association. Once organized, they convinced the management to make the needed repairs to the property and to renew its HUD contract. No longer a blighted property, Stanton Oaks now includes a community center and a play area for children.
Next came the Rosa Burney Apartments. Located in the Mechanicsville neighborhood, this property looked more like a yellow brick prison in need of a facelift than a residence hall. As at Stanton Oaks, residents of Rosa Burney have fought to gain some concessions. With its HUD contract coming up for renewal, the status of the building is still unclear. Deborah Arnold, president of the Rosa Burney Residents Association, vows to fight on to maintain affordable housing and end a rampant bedbug infestation.
In the Pittsburgh neighborhood, we found a once vibrant working-class community marred by boarded-up buildings and blight due to years of disinvestment by the city. In this environment, the “Peace by Piece House” was born.
The “Peace by Piece House” was donated to a group of activists dedicated to creating a meeting place for the community to organize. Built next to a city-owned community garden, the “Peace by Piece House” works to organize in the community with the aid of volunteers and the American Friends Service Committee.
Our final stop was at the residence of Georgia State University professor Tanya Washington in the Peoplestown neighborhood. Washington’s house and many others are on the shortlist to be taken from her through eminent domain and demolished to make way for a pond and possibly student housing for Georgia State University. The removal of this housing would not only displace dozens of residents, but could possibly disrupt the growth the neighborhood has been experiencing.
As conceived by Georgia Tech professor emeritus and MADSA member Larry Keating, whose book on inner-city Atlanta—-Race, Class and Urban Expansion—is a must-read, the tours are designed to show the resilience of communities targeted for destruction and make connections with other activists.
Musician and writer Brandon Payton-Carrillo is a member of the DSA National Political Committee.
This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 (early June) issue of the Democratic Left magazine.
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.