By Terri M. Lee
An Atlanta that everyone can afford to call home is possible when we prioritize affordable housing products and our people.
This is not conjecture or platitude. It is the principle upon which we are building one of the city’s most significant affordable housing redevelopments.
Situated on Atlanta’s Westside, Bowen Homes was erected in 1964 to provide homes to low-income families displaced by urban renewal. In 2009, its deteriorating infrastructure and unsafe living conditions forced its demolition. The deserted 74-acre remnants of a once-bustling community were, at-once, both the manifestation of an audacious vision for how a city could house hundreds of families and a cautionary reminder of the unintended consequences of concentrating- and even isolating- poverty. Today, as the Westside is currently experiencing rapid revitalization, through the combined efforts of Atlanta Housing, the City of Atlanta, residents past and present, and numerous community partners and stakeholders, Bowen Homes is having a renaissance of its own.
On July 26, 2023, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Atlanta a prestigious Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant, contributing $40 million toward the transformation of the former Bowen Homes public housing site, along with portions of the surrounding neighborhoods of Carey Park, Almond Park, and areas along Donald Lee Hollowell and James Jackson parkways, collectively known as the Bowen Choice Neighborhood. The award leverages more than $520 million in funding and other resources from public, private, and philanthropic investments to seed a community-driven transformation plan that will grow to a $1 billion investment.
The Bowen Choice Neighborhoods program is catalytic because it is a bold response to one of the most pressing challenges that we, as a city and as a nation, grapple with related to housing affordability, economic mobility and quality of life. By prioritizing the product—affordable housing units and the people—residents and community members, this redevelopment will soon stand as proof that there are scalable solutions to the housing affordability crisis.
When Mayor Dickens took office in 2021, he charged us all to view Atlanta as a group project. His call-to-action reminded us that even our city’s most intractable challenges can be resolved when we all put our heads and hands together. Embracing this approach, Atlanta Housing immediately went to work alongside the mayor’s newly created Affordable Housing Strikeforce to bring forth innovative solutions that invest in neighborhoods and people. The revitalization of Bowen Homes is one such effort, and it will prove to be transformative and sustainable for families, residents and neighborhoods served by Atlanta Housing and the City of Atlanta.
America’s Hidden Crisis
America’s affordable housing crisis is the pandemic that many do not see. No one should have to choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, yet this decision is forced upon too many – from college students to modest income earners- every day. Delivering affordable housing options restores dignity to hardworking neighbors who are exhausted in their efforts to keep themselves and their families housed and fed while they are priced out of attainable rental and homebuying opportunities.
Working together, in line with the mayor’s vision, our city can become a national model for what is possible when we invest in diverse, mixed-income communities that thrive. Affordable housing for all Atlantans can be realized.
Our Transformation Strategy: Housing, People, Neighborhood
The Bowen Choice Neighborhood redevelopment strategy is the culmination of a more than two-year Atlanta Housing planning process, in which we hosted more than 60 community meetings with former residents and engaged neighbors to learn more about the needs and dreams of the community. What resulted was a three-pronged approach- 1) Housing 2) People 3) Neighborhood- to usher in one of the most important transformations in Atlanta’s affordable housing ecosystem.
First, our Housing strategy aligns our mission with HUD, the City of Atlanta, community, business, and nonprofit sector partners. Through the power of investment and partnership, we can provide quality and affordable housing to those in need. The Housing strategy encompasses the redevelopment of the Bowen Homes site with more than $300 million allocated for housing development during the first phases of development that include 756 mixed-income rental units, of which 67 percent will be affordable. An additional 1,244 rental and for-sale units are planned for future phases. In total, we expect 2,000 high quality apartments to occupy the site where Bowen Homes once stood. Bowen will become a model for sustainable development employing rigorous standards for green stormwater and building practices.
Next, our People strategy will link residents to the tools they need to set and achieve their personal and economic empowerment goals. With $42 million in funding, our plan is designed to improve the health, education and economic outcomes of former Bowen Homes residents who were relocated because of the demolition of the site. Partners will offer programs that guide the residents to achieve greater self-sufficiency and improved quality of life.
This strategy is made possible only through the support of civic and community partners such as the City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools, Morehouse School of Medicine, United Way of Greater Atlanta, the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, Westside Works Powered by CareerRise, Georgia Tech, Boys and Girls Club, Atlanta Public Schools, Communities in Schools, and Atlanta Technical College.
Lastly, our Neighborhood strategy is the glue that holds the transformation together – bringing the people of Bowen Homes and the community together to live, work and play. It will set the conditions for more equitable development in the area including Carey Park, portions of Almond Park, Donald Lee Hollowell and James Jackson parkways.
With an investment of more than $200 million, we can focus on transforming the neighborhood, improving the quality of education, housing, retail, and recreational amenities. Our equitable housing model will focus on working with private neighborhood developers, rebuilding the existing dilapidated housing, creating new housing on the many vacant and abandoned lots, and removing residential blight. Our economic development strategy will complement our housing strategy by focusing on the removal of commercial blight, elevating legacy businesses and attracting new businesses to the area, particularly a quality grocer. An innovative community workforce center will serve as a jobs training hub offering culinary, arts and vocational training with on-site housing and an early learning center. Finally, our strategy will also position the Bowen neighborhood to be a model for environmental justice, restoring and reclaiming land for productive and healthy purposes.
Putting Plans in Motion
Today, the former Bowen Homes site is no longer a dormant space with an uncertain future. It is 74 acres of wonderful possibilities set to be brought to life by collaborations between Atlanta Housing, the City of Atlanta, development partners including The Benoit Group and McCormack Baron Salazar, and a host of essential stakeholders and community partners. The transformation will be guided by what the community told us they want and need in their neighborhood, every step of the way. Our job is to redevelop, rebuild, re-energize, and recapture the heart, soul, and pride from the Bowen Homes community of the past.
As other cities across the country continue to grapple with the challenges of housing affordability, the revitalization of Bowen Homes will stand as a national model, illuminating the possibilities that can be achieved through innovation and collaboration between local partners, our federal government, and most importantly, the community.
With a balanced focus on both products and people, we are working hard every day to do our part in this group project, delivering innovative solutions to housing affordability to the Bowen Choice Neighborhood and Atlanta residents citywide.
Terri M. Lee serves as Chief Operating Officer of Atlanta Housing