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East Point Mayor: Make sure development happens “with” residents, not “to” them

Maggie Lee
“People think that revitalization or redevelopment is synonymous with gentrification and I fundamentally believe that they’re not,” says East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham. Credit: Courtesy City of East Point

By Maggie Lee

East Point owns almost nine acres downtown, it has a new city hall and transit soccer field; miles of PATH trails are underway, developers are eyeing moribund downtown lots and it’s home to about 35,000 people mostly inside the Perimeter.

And Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham says the city is at a point where it needs to be intentional about development — to make sure development doesn’t mean displacement and that the city retains its diversity.

Back in January, city council voted unanimously to get started on a city equity plan.

Mayor Ingraham spoke to SR about East Point’s equity plan earlier this month. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. If you just want to hit the high points, see this condensed version.)

SaportaReport: East Point is pursuing an “equitable development and inclusion strategic plan.” People know their cities will plan for traffic or plan parks, traditional things like that. What is an equitable development and inclusion strategic plan?

Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham: An “equitable development and inclusion plan” means that development happens with people in our community and not to them.

It means that we’re growing in a way that our legacy residents and our businesses can stay with us, and that we minimize the negative impacts of gentrification, if not totally eliminate them, as we move forward with redeveloping our city.

East Point, soccer, mural

A bright mural adorns a brick building next to the Soccer in the Streets field that opened in East Point in October 2019. The field was built on land provided by East Point and the two adjacent businesses – Oz Pizza, owned by Chris Wiley, and the law office of Rob Baskin. File/Credit: David Pendered

Oftentimes, people think that revitalization or redevelopment is synonymous with gentrification and I fundamentally believe that they’re not.

I believe you can totally redevelop and revitalize a city without gentrifying, through equity, through ensuring that we’re having development that meets the needs of the residents while also meeting development needs.

So that is people-focused; and that really speaks to this holistic part of development that looks at “how do we develop?” How do we attract developers who want to build buildings as well as build community? Because I think that that’s required.

SR: What’s going on in East Point right now that makes this a timely thing to study? Is there something sort of coming to a head right now, is it a key moment right now?

DHI: It’s absolutely a key moment right now and there are a couple of things coming to a head.

When we look at the fact that we are two MARTA stops from the airport and there is a lot of development and things happening in Atlanta city proper and in the metro Atlanta area.

We are a jewel city with a lot of assets. We have the third soccer field on the world’s first transit soccer league.

In our downtown, there are a lot of things happening. And so, the market is really driving people to our city.

And we’ve also, as a city, purchased just under nine acres in the heart of our downtown to actually do a mixed-use development.

And last year, we cut the ribbon to our new city hall, an over 30,000-square foot building that is catalytic to the development that will be happening downtown.

So for us, that … makes us understand that this is a critically important time and that we can’t just ‘desire’ to have a place where all are welcome and included and where we grow this sense of community, if we don’t plan for it.

And so it is critically urgent for us and we realize that which is why we engaged the Partnership for Southern Equity to help us with this work because it’s a new way of thinking of development. Right. And so we know we know we needed to have a great partner on this journey.

SR: What are the outcomes you expect from the study, what are the deliverables that will come out of this study?

DHI: We’re looking at a couple of key high-level areas around economic inclusion. [Such as] looking at our zoning and ordinance rewrite that we’re getting ready to undergo around unified zoning.

How do we really put that equity within our zoning, equity within our internal operations … so that we are having equity inside out?

There’s a real key focus on economic inclusion, community benefit agreements. … Definitely we are open for business and welcome businesses, but we also want to make clear our expectations of businesses that come into our community. And if we are going to partner with and incentivize a business for coming, then there has to be ideally equal community benefit, but definitely close to those incentives. (Which generally look like tax abatements, tax breaks and a number of other incentives as well.)

But, I feel we a have moral obligation to ensure that we are also always thinking about our community, because development impacts our community.

There are a number of different things under that. There’s also equitable industrial land use. We, historically, our forefathers, the way we were founded, we were kind of an industrial city. While there are definitely still some industrial hubs within our city, I think we are growing in a different way. And that there are some higher and better uses for different land within our city to ensure that we are not negatively impacting the quality of life of our residents through more industrialization. And that we have industrial uses that actually provide a benefit to the community. Some have talked about manufacturing, things that provide livable wage jobs and minimize the carbon footprint from all these trucks and things of that nature. So, we’re really taking a look at that.

I think that’s critical because when we were founded, it was something different than where we’re moving now.

And then also, housing affordability. Generally when you talk about affordable housing, I mean, I’ve gotten to a point where I can kind of look at a person’s body language and see that they’ve assigned a class or race or some socio-demographic to that type of housing. But the reality of it is, is that if you have a million-dollar home and a mortgage, your house is affordable for you, like a mortgage is an affordable housing tool.

So how do we ensure as we’re growing, that we continue to have a diverse housing stock, that makes housing affordable to everyone in our city, regardless of their income level? And people have different preferences. And so, making sure that we continue to have that diverse housing stock that addresses housing from its root, homelessness, all the way up to what people call attainable housing, I really haven’t figured out what that means other than I think is a new term that people came up with who don’t like ‘affordable housing.’ But it’s kind of like people transition from homelessness to transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, to affordable housing, to workforce development housing and then this concept of attainable housing.

But for us, right now, I feel like our housing stock is so diverse that we do have housing at all of those, labels or different types that people have assigned.

But also, just because we have them, we have to be intentional about keeping them and in putting things in place that help to ensure that that exists, attracting different types of developers for different types of development within our city. So if I had to do an umbrella of sorts, I think those would be the key areas where the deliverables will come.

And all with this goal of ensuring that people can grow, the people who’ve been here and invested in in our city for quite some time, have the opportunity to grow with us.

East Point, soccer, goalie

Kalen Watkins played a superb round as shot blocker as strikers lined up against him during the inaugural October, 2019 play at the new field Soccer in the Streets and its partners established in East Point. File/Credit: David Pendered

SR: Say it’s 10 years in the future and this plan has come out and, you know, it’s the city’s acted on the things in the plan. How will the residents experience the benefit? How will things be different?

DHI: From a resident’s point of view, I would say, a couple things: there will be pride in the fact that we would have at that point a model equitable development in our downtown area. The land that we’ve purchased and the development that we put there would be something that would be equitable, and a place for them to enjoy … the commercial portion of it, the the green space that we anticipate having there.

Also, through the different community benefit agreements and the tools that have been put in place to ensure equity, there will be more green space, there will be more quality of life, be more walkability, there will be more opportunities to literally work in our city and earn a livable wage, and be able to take care of your family and enjoy life in that way.

There will continue to be this multicultural city where we have people of all different races, of different socioeconomic status, we have a significant LGBTQIA population in our city. I believe our intentionality around equity and inclusion will enable us to continue to have that.

And so in 10 years, I talk about my … motto is there’s no point like East Point. And I say that because I believe that we are and will continue to be a model city for equity, inclusion, a place where people can just thrive and be connected.

But I also say it because I want people to come check us out and see. I think when they come, it’s a feeling that you have. While we will have a plan (and we need that to have deliberate steps) I also want and envision a day where our all of our residents will say: This is my city, and in my city “we” this and “our” that. Using ownership pronouns, right? Because of the pride that they have in the city, because of the feeling of being valued and being included.

SR: And when will people start to see results? When is the plan due?

DHI: The complete plan is due in June [2021] … But there are steps along the way. So there’s work on a preliminary findings report for us to decide which tools, strategies and which way to go. So I think there will definitely be some visible action steps that happen during the midst of completing the flow plan. Community benefit agreements will definitely, hopefully surface before the end of that time as we are in the phase of working on the development agreement with the property that we own downtown. Wo we’ll, we’ll start having those community conversations around that as we’re looking at higher and better uses for certain industrial areas within our city. That’s going to happen before that time as well. So it’s kind of like a final plan, but we’re working along the way.

SR: Is there anything else I should ask you or anything else you’d add about the equity plan?

DHI: I would just say that equity and inclusion is more than a cliché. It’s an intentional act.

I won’t profess and say right now we’ve figured it all out. We haven’t. We are literally building the plane while we’re flying. But what we do have is a real belief in the fact that things can be different. And that we can develop differently. And that there’s a commitment to at least trying that.

If you do the same thing and expect different results, that’s insanity. But if you are willing to take the chance and to try something different and to partner with experts to help you along the way, to build the capacity of your staff, as well as make clear your expectations to the community that you serve, [and] also the development community and the business community, that this is who we are, this is what we believe and this is where we’re going, I believe that we’ll get there.

But I know it requires intentionality, it requires being strategic. And it first and foremost requires being people-focused. And making sure that our community is a part of the conversations and there will be a community engagement or a community equity leadership component of it to help build the capacity of residents around this as well, because this is new work.

But when we get there, I want to make sure that everyone feels like they were on this journey with us together and not that we did something to them, but that we were restorative and did something with them.

Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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