Spearheaded by developer Tom Cousins, the redevelopment of East Lake Meadows housing project is a national example of replacing a neighborhood mired in poverty with a mixed-income neighborhood that is safer and more prosperous today.
Mr. Cousins recently detailed the success of East Lake’s redevelopment in a Wall Street Journal article. He notes that 15 years ago, East Lake was a “terrifying place to live,” where nine out of 10 residents were victims of crime, and employment among families on welfare was 13 percent.
How did Mr. Cousins and the East Lake Foundation turn the neighborhood — and the lives of its residents — around? They started by focusing on housing. The East Lake Foundation and the Atlanta Housing Authority tore down the East Lake Meadows public housing project and replaced it with mixed-income housing.
Cousins says, “This was key: A mixed-income community ensures that children are around role models — employed adults who take care of property and spend time with their children.”
Education was next on the to-do list. Atlanta’s first charter school, Charles R. Drew School, was built. The K-8 school offered longer school days and an extended school year, which would benefit working parents. This school now serves 90 percent of the children in the neighborhood and is the top performing elementary school in the Atlanta Public School system.
The Foundation also bought up surrounding properties and redeveloped them, including the historic East Lake Golf Club, home of Bobby Jones. Redevelopment brought banks, a Publix grocery store and a Wal-Mart store.
Cousins reports that as a result of redevelopment of East Lake, violent crime is down more than 90 percent. Crime overall is down 73 percent — a level 50 percent better than the rest of Atlanta. Employment among families on welfare has increased to 70 percent from 13 percent in 1995. And the income of publicly assisted families has more than quadrupled. And home values in the surrounding area have risen at 3.8 times the city average.
Marietta’s Franklin Road area is similar in many ways to East Lake prior to redevelopment. High crime rates have driven employers out of the office complexes along Franklin Road — and employed residents out of apartment complexes.
Like East Lake, Franklin Road is ideally located for new, multifamily apartments, including mixed-income housing, as well as businesses that provide jobs.
For the past four years, Marketplace Missions has conducted an outreach program in the Franklin Road community. We know first-hand the issues affecting the people who live on Franklin Road. We know that there is poverty, drugs, violence, theft and all kinds of other problems. A few of our members are current and former residents of Franklin Road and have experienced the problems firsthand. And they agree that something needs to be done.
We provided food, clothing and prayers to the East Lake community 18 years ago. Today, the East Lake we visited is no longer the same. Vision and redevelopment transformed East Lake, and can do the same for the Franklin Road Corridor.
And that transformation will bring newer and higher-quality housing, businesses, jobs, and a safer environment for the people who now live on Franklin Road.
Segun Masha is a minister, business consultant, certified financial instructor and author. He is a 1985 biochemistry graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He worked for five years in the capital markets and investment banking industry. His career as a community organizer began in the United States when he founded Marketplace Missions, a faith-based, nonprofit organization, in 1995. Marketplace Missions provides food, clothing, life skills training, employment-related programs, networking and social services. http://www.marketplacemissions.com/