Intentional Neighboring, Transformed Neighborhoods – Part Two

31 Mar

 

A Charis workforce (moderately priced) home

A formerly foreclosed South Atlanta property that Charis purchased and renovated as a workforce (moderately priced) home. The organization aims to help neighborhoods reach a mix of about 30% affordable, 30% workforce, and 30% market rate homes.

In a previous blog, we shared about the beginnings of Charis Community Housing, whose affordable housing work in Atlanta inspired Making Housing Happen. Here, Jim Wehner, Charis’ president, describes some of the ministry’s philosophy and method.

After the completion of the GlenCastle apartments, Charis was invited to take part in the East Lake Community. This affordable housing initiative was spearheaded by Tom Cousins, an Atlanta business leader and philanthropist.

“Tom got the idea to buy and renovate the Bobby Jones golf course, and decided to try housing with this huge asset,” Jim said.

Lower-income residents were able to buy a home in East Lake with the help of “sweat equity.” In this model (similar to that of Habitat for Humanity), future homeowners help build their own homes as part of the purchase agreement.

They also lease for one year and take classes on homeownership before receiving a 20-year, no-interest mortgage loan. Charis has provided hundreds of these loans over the years in East Lake, which is considered its most successful development to date.

Over time, Charis leaders have learned that mixed-income neighborhoods fare better than ones that are mostly low income. “Some call Bob [Lupton] ‘the gentrifier,’” Jim noted, referring to the organization’s founder. “But Charis isn’t afraid to say that community development and revitalization really have an economic component.”

In areas such as South Atlanta, whose population is historically African American and lower income, “gentrification” has a negative connotation. Basically, it means white homeowners moving in, and black renters having to leave because of higher rents.

From their experience, though, Charis believes that “If you really want to move the poverty needle, you need to desegregate,” says Jim. He notes that most Section 8 (federally subsidized) rentals are located in low-income communities.

“Bob recognized early on that you have to mix income levels because when you have people with means, they can help lift the neighborhood along. It’s an economic driver, and lower-income families benefit too.”

Toward that end, Charis aims for a mix of roughly 30% affordable, 30% workforce (moderately priced), and 30% market rate homes. “Each type of home should be spread out evenly in the community and not clumped together,” explains Christy Taylor, Charis’ associate director of community development. This strategy helps combat pockets of poverty in neighborhoods while stabilizing affordability over time.

At the same time, Charis works to maintain affordability with tactics such as:

  • Green housing standards, which help keep utility costs down and offset rising taxes
  • The Homestead Exemption, a state law that lowers the taxable assessed value of an owner-occupied home
  • Ensuring that affordable, moderate, and market-rate homes look similar, without outward signs of price differences

Notes Christy, “All these are creative ways to help keep neighborhoods affordable while counterbalancing the downsides of gentrification.”

What are your thoughts? You can read more about the idea of “gentrification with justice” in these resources:

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