How the HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant is transforming an integral part of the city’s downtown
by Elizabeth Manning
August 30, 2017

Everywhere you look, cities and organizations are using new, innovative methods to build more comprehensive communities, rather than just structures. The Atlanta Housing Authority in Atlanta, Georgia, is doing just that in the city’s Westside with the help of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhood Grant. The grant (cnatlanta.org) funds redevelopment in Atlanta’s University Center neighborhood and improvements to two other neighborhoods in the Westside: Ashview Heights and Vine City.

According to Catherine Buell, president and CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA), there was a general feeling among many residents that the proper level of investment in the Westside had not been made for some time. Buell hopes the Choice Neighborhood Grant, along with a host of other programs, funds and grants, will change that outlook. The AHA received the grant in 2015. The AHA worked with McCormack Baron Salazar, a real estate development firm that specializes in urban neighborhoods, and The Integral Group LLC to redevelop the 19-acre site.

The main construction site involves the demolition and rebuild of the former University Homes in the Atlanta University Center. The site was the nation’s first federally funded public housing for African-Americans, completed in 1937. Thus far in the construction process, the AHA has torn down the traditional public housing and completed two units. The Veranda at Scholar’s Landing, pictured above, is a 100-unit, senior affordable independent living development. The Oasis at Scholar’s Landing houses a 50-unit affordable senior personal care facility.

The team will break ground on the first multifamily unit this month, which will hold 135 units when completed. Another multifamily unit is planned to start construction between now and 2020. The multifamily units will also offer ground-floor retail space. In total, the entire site will hold more than 588 resident units. Over 400 of the units will be affordable housing. The final phase of construction will include 33 mixed-income, for-sale homes. All of the structures are built to be environmentally friendly and energy-efficient. The Veranda at Scholar’s Landing achieved LEED Silver, and the Oasis at Scholar’s Landing is Earthcraft-certified. The project’s estimated completion date is 2022.

One of Buell’s favorite aspects of the community is also yet to be completed: the AHA plans to adapt and reuse a small, historic building called the Roosevelt Administration Building. Buell said they would like to use it as a business incubator and community center, but the plans are yet to be finalized.

The University Choice neighborhood sits within two council districts: District 3, represented by Ivory Lee Young Jr., and District 4, represented by Cleta Winslow. The council members were actively involved with the grant planning and regularly attend advisory committee meetings. “The City of Atlanta has truly been our partner in this redevelopment,” said Buell.

According to Buell, in addition to working with AHA to raise $395 million in investment commitments, the city also helped track data for the grant, plan for the different projects taking place and engage residents in the three neighborhoods.

While the construction of the new residential buildings is a main focus, the grant is also aimed at fostering an entirely new way of living for the residents of the three neighborhoods.

Part of the grant money will be used to help more than 20 organizations and providers encourage and fund healthier lifestyles for the residents living in each neighborhood. The programs will promote community engagement, provide access to educational opportunities and job training and more. In partnership with the City of Atlanta and various organizations, the AHA will provide $20,000 in scholarships per year to neighborhood residents. To promote healthier food choices, AHA also worked with Aglanta (aglanta.org) to build out an urban agriculture community in the University Choice neighborhood, including a community garden and a farmer’s market.

An Anti-Displacement Tax Fund program has been set up to help support the current homeowners in the neighborhoods improved by the Choice Neighborhood Grant. The fund will help pay for tax increases for current homeowners so they aren’t priced out of the area due to the investments the city is making.

In a project with so many moving parts, the AHA relies on a full team of employees. The new residential structures already have lengthy waitlists, but as with every other facet of the project, the AHA has a process in place. “It’s also important to us that we are actively reaching out and engaging with the former residents of the neighborhood—we want them to come back,” Buell said. With this project, the Westside Atlanta community will see a revitalization, not only in housing, but likely in communty engagement as well.