Photo of a Washington Park house already renovated by Georgia Trust beside the empty lot where a new house will be built. (Credit: Special)
A Washington Park house already renovated by Georgia Trust is going to get a new neighbor on the empty lot next door. (Credit: Special)

By Maggie Lee

On three plots of land near the Westside BeltLine trail, a Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation initiative that’s going to see families in three affordable homes is now counting Atlanta Habitat for Humanity among its partners.

Photo of a Washington Park house already renovated by Georgia Trust beside the empty lot where a new house will be built. (Credit: Special)
A Washington Park house already renovated by Georgia Trust is going to get a new Habitat-developed neighbor on the empty lot next door. (Credit: Special)

And the Trust is looking for other suitable properties to extend the program.

So far the Trust has gotten to work preserving two houses — preserving the character of the homes, but also preserving an affordable price. Now through a land donation to Habitat, a new house will come out of the program too.

The Trust’s program is meant to show it’s feasible to do physical rehabilitation of neighborhoods without displacing folks.

“It’s hard to find properties at an affordable price in these Westside neighborhoods because of all the real estate speculation,” said Georgia Trust President and CEO Mark McDonald.

The new speculative buyers may not have any interest in longtime residents or the decades-old homes.

But some folks do.

“We’ve long believed, and this is our practice, that preservation is more than just the physical part of persevering buildings. It’s also persevering community and ways of life and sense of place. And that all comes from the people,” said McDonald.

The Trust is donating a piece of undeveloped Washington Park property to Habitat for developing a home. The Trust bought the vacant land plus two homes that are on the National Register of Historic Places from the family of Edward Johnson, a longtime resident of the community who served during World War II as a ground school instructor with the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Johnson family’s former home in Washington Park is already renovated and on the market for $198,000. The other in Mozley Park is still in the works.

All three will be sold as affordable housing.

The new home will be part of the typical Habitat first-time homeowner program: a prospective buyer would pick out the land, take home education classes, put in sweat equity with volunteers, and end up with a low-cost mortgage.

The land underneath the two existing homes will be held by the Atlanta Land Trust, enabling buyers to get into the homes just for the price of the homes, not the land. There will also be architectural covenants — binding rules against changing the look of the homes too much. Buyers will be limited to making no more than 80 percent of area median income, or almost $64,000 for a family of four.

Atlanta Habitat President and CEO Lisa Y. Gordon said in an emailed statement that they are honored to partner with the Georgia Trust and grateful for the opportunity to create a legacy of affordable housing.

“We hope there will be more opportunities to impact the community together,” Gordon wrote.

McDonald said the Trust plans to participate with Habitat to design a house compatible with the neighborhood.  And the Trust definitely plans to join volunteer work days.

The Trust’s West Atlanta Preservation Initiative officially started more than a year ago, and had a ceremonial kickoff at the Johnson family home earlier this year.

To make a program like this work, McDonald mentioned several things.  An organization or developer has to buy property that’s at a reasonable or low price. That can mean finding sellers who have charitable intent, like the Johnsons.

Another: seek partners, like the Atlanta Land Trust or Habitat for Humanity.

And finally: affordable housing has to be part of the plan from the very beginning, no doing a development and hoping there’s money at the end left over to subsidize affordability.

“It’s not going to happen unless the organization doing development is intentional about making it happen,” McDonald.

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

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