Atlanta’s housing friction: Near $718,000 spec house, signs state ‘Stop Gentrification’
By David Pendered
Two stunning signs of gentrification now appear on a street in a legacy Black neighborhood south of the state Capitol that had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.
The signs in the Pittsburgh neighborhood are – a spec house is under contract at a price of $718,000; and neighbors of the spec house are posting placards that state, “Stop Gentrification. Keep residents in place. Our neighborhoods are not for sale.”
The placards are produced by the anti-gentrification group, Community Movement Builders. It claims chapters in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood, Dallas and Detroit. Goals include “pushing back against gentrification” and advising of “new arrivals of these transitions [who] are more often moderate- to upper-income Whites, and are invariably persons who do not preserve, support, or value the community culture or residents that they have uprooted.”
These are just two indicators of the swiftness of change in Pittsburgh and the city’s other more-blighted communities, many of them home to Black residents for generations. Some of the white buyers in Pittsburgh were out jogging through the neighborhood on Sunday morning.
If just these two indicators existed, and even with a few more, they may not amount to a warning flag over the city’s neighborhoods of last resort. However, enough of these indicators exist to warrant comment in the 2021 edition of “State of the Nation’s Housing” report, released July 9 by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. The report observes (page 9) that between December 2019 and December 2020:
- “In Atlanta, home prices in communities of color were up 10.6 percent, outpacing metro-wide gains by 1.4 percentage point.”
This might seem like a no-brainer phenomenon in an era when the nation’s housing shortage makes headlines almost everyday: Low-price neighborhoods will exhibit the greatest proportional change as buyers start buying and prices rise.
Still, this is Pittsburgh. A $718,000 house with see-through garage doors that reveal two expensive cars seems a stretch, in a neighborhood where the front porch of a nearby house, facing Metropolitan Avenue, has floor-to-ceiling burglar bars to secure the screened-in front porch. On Sunday morning, a group of young men stood talking next to a pickup truck, under a cloud of smoke that smelled like marijuana.
Perhaps most telling – three houses located on the street behind the spec house were sold in 2018 for prices of $145,000, $168,000 and $200,000, according to the developer, ANDP, the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc., which works to provide affordable housing in ways that reduce racial inequities in homeownership.
Dan Immergluck and Derrick Duckworth don’t need Harvard’s report to confirm their real-time knowledge of these Atlanta neighborhoods.
Immergluck, with Georgia State University, has conducted for 20 years research on metro Atlanta’s housing markets and neighborhood change. Duckworth, a realtor, opened his own firm in 2006 to focus on properties flanking the Atlanta BeltLine.
Immergluck wrote in an email that his research has pointed toward rising values since about 2012 in legacy Black intown Atlanta neighborhoods, especially those within a half-mile of the Atlanta BeltLine – which includes Pittsburgh. These findings have been outside the major focus of his work, which involves housing values in areas where Blacks bought dwellings, not in legacy Black neighborhoods. Some findings reinforced the notion that legacy Black neighborhoods were slow to recover values after the Great Recession started in 2007. As reported in a 2015 paper, “Race and Uneven Recovery,” by Elora Raymonda, Kyungsoon Wanga and Immergluck:
- “Importantly, race, even after controlling for poverty, is a major predictor of housing market trajectories.” Trajectories in Black neibhorhoods were not rising in step with white neighborhoods.
By 2017, a mounting number of indicators showed the Atlanta BeltLine was associated with steep value increases property values, according to the report, “Sustainable for Whom?,” by Immergluck and Tharunaya Balan. Their work revealed that housing values in Southwest Atlanta rose by 58.8%, for parcels located within a half-mile of the BeltLine. The increase was 32.2% in areas beyond a half-mile of the BeltLine, in Southwest Atlanta.
Duckworth boils down the description even further.
“There was a time not too long ago when real estate agents were trying to figure out if Adair Park would ever get to the $250,000 range,” Duckworth said. “Now it’s up in the $600,000s. Nobody saw that coming.”
These prices are getting close to some in Buckhead, Duckworth said.
“I was at an elementary school in Buckhead, Morris Brandon, and there was a house listed for $600,000,” Duckworth said. “Whoever thought someone would pay the same price for a house in Adair Park that they would in Buckhead.”
John O’Callaghan sees the winds of social change in what seems to be a sudden demand for houses in legacy Black neighborhoods. O’Callaghan, an Atlanta native, serves as president/CEO of ANDP and portrays the demand for houses by white buyers in legacy Black neighborhoods as part of a generational change:
- “In an earlier generation, if there were a home in a Black neighborhood that was for sale, the buyer pool was largely Black buyers. White buyers were not interested. So there was a constrained market based on discrimination and finance issues – if the buyer could get a loan in that neighborhood.
- “Today, as I talk to younger buyers, they appreciate living in a diverse neighborhood. I think it’s no longer a disadvantage to have diversity. It’s a market advantage. Add to that, that Black neighborhoods are undervalued because of racism through our housing history, and they are good buys.”
The organization Community Movement Builders presents the gentrification in terms including this observation:
- “Gentrification is usually sold under the guise of ‘urban planning’ meant to improve neighborhood with new parks, dog parks, walking and biking trails, upscale coffee shops, eateries and new bars specializing in craft beers and wines. Housing prices begin to increase as luxury and so-called ‘mixed-income’ housing is developed….”
- “Pittsburgh boasts a number of assets that are now making it attractive to developers and investors. It is connected via an ample grid of city streets, and located very close to Interstates 75-85. It is an Atlanta BeltLine neighborhood – a distinction limited to 40 or so communities along a 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit currently under construction….”