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The Bluff. Atlanta's Forgotten Community. Part 3.

3:12 AM, Nov 5, 2011   |    comments
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Part Three of our series on “The Bluff, Atlanta’s Forgotten Community,” concludes with a look at what’s being done to help change the blight and crime that have become endemic in this neighborhood.

Part Three of our series on "The Bluff, Atlanta's Forgotten Community," concludes with a look at what's being done to help change the blight and crime that have become endemic in this neighborhood.

   In many places in the Bluff, the empty lots grow tall as the grass on the Serengeti, complete with wild animals like the feral dogs that roam here by the dozen.

   Many absentee landlords have let the houses here sit unoccupied for years, many hoping in vain that the real estate market makes a come-back.  Most are shotgun shacks.  But some are expensive McMansions.

   "You've got a 200-thousand dollar house sitting in the middle of the ghetto," scoffed Robert Lane, whose daughter lives in the community.  "Anybody who can afford to live here, don't want to live here!"

   It has led to a bizarre irony in this neighborhood that sits within sight of downtown Atlanta:

   The rich don't want to live here.  And the poor can't.

   Because of the deplorable conditions, public assistance wouldn't let their clients move in to most of these houses.

   "This is like downtown," said local church member Jimmy Gates.  "They've got to do something with it.  I believe Mayor Reed is going to do something about it."

   We met Jimmy Gates and Robert Lane in part two of our series on the Bluff: The believer and the agnostic, at least when it comes to the city rescuing this community in crisis.

   Well, it turns out both of them are men of faith.

   They are members of Greater New Hope Baptist Church, which sits at the edge of the Bluff and has deep roots here.

   "We are trying our best to bring life back into this neighborhood," said Pastor Darrell Edwards.  "And we hope that someone outside of us will recognize that this is a forgotten neighborhood that needs assistance and needs love.  And as a church we're trying to give it back."

   The church is not waiting for the city to do all the heavy lifting in this community.

   They too are stepping up as best they can with limited resources... and an abundance of prayer.

   "We need to get all the churches within this community to start working together to try and see what we can do as part of this community," said Deacon Michael Williams Jr.

   State Representative Able Mable Thomas agrees. 

   We caught up with her at a recent neighborhood clean-up in the area.  Through events like that, the community invests in itself with sweat equity and shared goals, like trying to open a new youth center at the old elementary school.

   "There's enough good people, good solid people in this community who are professionals as well as community-based working people, that we can be part of a turn-around," insists Rep. Thomas.

   There are signs that some landlords understand the need to keep these empty homes neat and secure, like the loud whir of weed-eaters cutting through the overgrowth of some of the houses.  But the vast majority of them still don't seem to get it.

   That could be about to change.

   "If you own a vacant or abandoned piece of property that historically continues to be a blight on the community; that continues to be the source, the root cause of high crime and illegal activity in our community; then you're subject to supporting terrorism to those who live next door to those properties," said local Atlanta councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr.

   Young says despite the fact that the city has pumped more than 80-million dollars into the Bluff and English Avenue over the last 20-years, it may be time for tougher measures; among them, taking property away from deadbeat landlords through eminent domain.

   "There's really only one option when you have the percentage of vacant houses that we have: Eminent domain.  If we can pursue a course of eminent domain and condemnation and acquire a critical mass (of properties) then we can make an investment that can show a difference."

   Young talks of revitalization through economies of scale. 

   What that means is this:

   Building one nice house on a bad street will do nothing.  Building an entire street with nice houses will generate growth.  It also requires surrounding communities to get involved and create a synergy of development that will benefit each of them together with jobs and training..

   "The folks that you're hearing from are there for the long haul," said councilman Young.  "They're here for the fight.  And I'm there with them.  And I promise them we're not going to tuck tail and run."


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