Making the Westside a community of choice
Introduction by John Ahmann, President & CEO of Westside Future Fund
Our guest columnist this week is Leonard Adams, Jr., Founder & CEO of Quest Community Development Organization, Inc. As the founder of Quest, Leonard leaned into developing affordable supportive housing in Vine City over 19 years ago. I am grateful to Leonard Adams because the Westside Future Fund (WFF) is the relatively new kid on the block and he has welcomed and collaborated with WFF. His collaborative, mission driven leadership is a great example of the Power of We. I’ve been leading WFF for over 3 years and have gotten to know Leonard better and better. I’ve learned that he focuses not just on the “what” of getting housing delivered but on the “how” as well, meaning how we treat people. As we strive to build a community Dr. King would be proud to call home, I am pretty sure he would be proud to have Leonard Adams/Quest as a neighbor in Vine City.
Last month, Leonard and his team presented at the August 16 Transform Westside Summit to share their Quest 2020 plan, a mixed-use community at the corner of Joseph E. Boone and Joseph E. Lowery boulevards in Vine City, including the new Nonprofit Center for Change. If you did not attend, you can get a recap and watch a recording of the Facebook livestream. Be sure to register and join me at our upcoming Transform Westside Summit on September 20.
Making the Westside a community of choice
First let me commend the Westside Future Fund for staying focused on the goals. For years they continuing to convene interested parties looking to share, learn, act and do as they, Quest and others work to revitalize the Westside making it a community of choice.
As I think about a community of choice, I also think about the decades of significant socioeconomic challenges that have resulted in depopulation, disinvestment, and escalating crime on Atlanta’s Westside, a mostly residential area consisting of a mix of single-family homes and small apartment complexes. Numerous past planning efforts have had limited impact or simply failed to address ongoing economic and racial disparities to enhance the quality of life for legacy residents. About 96% of the population is African American, more than 50% lives below poverty, unemployment hovers around 22%, and the average median household income is approximately $23,000.
Despite these challenges, Atlanta’s Westside has many significant assets that can be leveraged to encourage reinvestment. Ideally located immediately west of Atlanta’ Central Business District, Westside Atlanta is adjacent to two MARTA stations, the Atlanta University Center, Fortune 500 companies, a major convention center, and the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. There are also significant historic and cultural assets in these communities, which were home to notable civil rights and civic leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Julian Bond, and former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson.
As I highlighted at the Transform Westside Summit using a photo taken in Upper Westside (hint upper Westside – see how titles are put to segregate areas), people view things differently because we are different. This is why it is vitally important that not only do we hear/share these differences but embrace such differences to produce an inclusive solution and plan of action that can be fluid enough to accept change as well as structured enough to keep our direction on the north star as we all work to preserve, revitalize, retain and attract residents and businesses to the Westside. If we don’t embrace, we will ultimately systematically isolate.
Quest being the local community development corporation (CDC) has worked over the past 19 years to increase the supply of quality, affordable multi-family and single family rental housing options, develop new office retail commercial spaces and offer community resident focused supportive services in an effort to make the Westside communities a destination to Live, Work, and Play for ALL.
There is still plenty of work to be done, but we are off to a good start. Working with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Westside Future Fund and a host of other supporters we are currently investing $39.6 million over 4 Westside Communities into the development of new affordable housing producing 105 apartment units and 7 single family homes, community facilities that will provide 30,000 S.F. of office retail space and resident services delivery solutions enhancing our efforts to create communities that changes lives.
Join us at Questcommunities.org. Live Work Serve