As hope replaces despair, Atlanta’s role in housing innovation continues

By Guest Columnist CAROL NAUGHTON, senior vice president for Purpose Built Communities

Atlanta has indeed been a national leader in affordable housing innovations, as SaportaReport noted in the June 11 Maria’s Metro column.  The invention, and more importantly, reinvention of public housing, are examples of the kind of innovation of which Atlanta is capable.

The Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) remains a leader in affordable housing innovations that create better outcomes for people and neighborhoods. Having spent much of my career in community development, I know first-hand how revolutionary its approach to affordable housing has been.

AHA shifted the paradigm that had written people off by isolating, warehousing and marginalizing them in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty with substandard housing and living conditions, into neighborhoods that provided much higher-quality, more desirable options through mixed-use, mixed-income communities.

Carol Naughton

Carol Naughton

AHA’s work over the past 18 years represents a new wave of the Civil Rights movement — reintegrating families into healthier neighborhoods and replacing despair with hope.

It’s important to acknowledge that AHA and its partners — the Integral Group, Columbia Residential and the East Lake Foundation and others — have demonstrated that they care about much more than simply providing affordable housing.

They have demonstrated their commitment to creating the circumstances that will provide better outcomes for families and neighborhoods.

I came to Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit consulting firm that works with local leaders around the country to apply the model developed through the revitalization of East Lake to struggling neighborhoods around the country, via AHA and then the East Lake Foundation.

Based on the success of families and children in East Lake, we are convinced that a holistic approach which combines high-quality, mixed-income housing with a strong cradle-to-college education pipeline and community wellness programs and facilities — guided by a single-focus nonprofit organization — can help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and significantly improve opportunities and outcomes for low-income residents, and strengthen the neighborhoods in which they live.

What the transformation of East Lake demonstrates is that the model works: employment rates increase, educational achievement and incomes rise, criminal activity decreases, and lives are radically improved by replacing despair with real opportunity.

There are additional benefits. We’ve known for some time that neighborhood is the most reliable predictor of a child’s academic and economic future, but it’s also a stunningly accurate predictor of health outcomes — an issue that is tied to our economic security as a nation and overall quality of life.

Some of the health-related progress we have observed in East Lake includes reduced obesity among children, decreased incidents of asthma, decreased absenteeism at school and increased recreational activity in the neighborhood.

The evidence is so compelling that seven other cities are now implementing this model, and 20 additional cities are exploring it.

This work of breaking the cycle of poverty through holistic community transformation is tied to the bigger issues of local and national economic growth at every stratum of American life.

Building on the pioneering work of AHA and its partners, and other Atlanta pioneers such as the Zeist Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, through the work of Purpose Built Communities, Atlanta continues to serve as a national model of the lives that can be changed and the benefits to society overall when we invest in both people and place to give everyone the opportunity to thrive.

Purpose Built Communities  is an Atlanta-based nonprofit consulting firm that works with local leaders around the country to transform struggling neighborhoods into vibrant, sustainable , mixed-income communities. 

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