Homes For All Southern Land & Housing Leadership Assembly

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Last week 23 residents, activists and organizers from across the South gathering in Atlanta for the first Homes For All Southern Land & Housing Leadership Assembly.  Members of the Housing Justice League in Atlanta, Cooperation Jackson (Mississippi), Miami Workers Center (Florida), Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and Homes For All Nashville (Tennessee) spent three days learning from each other’s local organizing, getting to know and build trust with each other, developing a collective vision for expanding land & housing organizing across the south, and planning next steps to build regional power towards land & housing liberation.
 
Once grounded in each other’s work, participants broke up into small groups of mixed cities to ask each other What do we want the south to look like for our children / grandchildren?
 
Each group brought back bullet points of what they believe we must be ready to fight for together. While housing as a human right and community control of land & housing were central themes, our collective vision for the south (and the nation) was not limited to land & housing. We talked about our need to fight for a broad and intersectional vision with demands that include a living wage for all, ending mass incarceration and other economic, gender and racial justice issues.
 
We get so comfortable. We get comfortable thinking that the things we take for granted, someone paid a cost for that. It was so amazing to see all of the work, the detailed work that people are doing to create change, and to take that back and get out and fight for our cause.” -Mrs. Sheila, Cooperation Jackson
 
This is the first time, that we know of, that a group of southern organizers and residents have come together to plan a regional organizing strategy for land & housing in the south. The battles ahead will not be easy, but we know we won’t win unless we build intersectional power across movements. Homes For All members across the country understand that to truly secure housing as a human right for all people, our movement must confront and dismantle white supremacy and other systems of oppression and power.
 
From the theft of indigenous land, the enslavement and exploitation of Africans, the denial of land ownership to black and other communities of color, the creation of federal backed GSE’s to support white & suburban homeownership while redlining and dis-investing from entire communities of color, to predatory lending, the destruction of public housing and gentrification of historically black and brown neighborhoods, white supremacist ideology has shaped land & housing policy for centuries.

During day two of the #HFASouth Assembly, we dove deep together to understand the particular and specific ways white supremacy has shaped our communities’ relationships to land & housing in the South. We emerged deeper clarity that Southern people and movements must lead and play a central role in building a regional, national and international movement for land & housing liberation that centers the fight to dismantle white supremacy, win reparations and transform our communities.
 
We unanimously decided to form Homes For All South (#HFASouth) and to move forward with plans to hold a bigger Southern HFA Assembly in Spring 2018 in either Jackson, MS or Nashville, TN.  We plan to bring together as many as a hundred residents, organizers and freedom fighters actively engaged in land & housing struggles along with allies from other movements to train & educate each other on cutting edge organizing strategies, develop shared strategy and grow our movement.
 
Over the next years we plan to recruit and support the development of new housing and land justice organizations including tenant unions, neighborhood organizations and Community Land Trusts, as well as to build deep partnerships across other sectors and movements. By building a unified land & housing movement across the south we can contribute to a broader movement to confront the rise of the neo-confederacy and win land, liberation and freedom for our people. We currently working in different committees to recruit participants, plan the agenda, and figure out logistics for the conference. To see the full story written by Malcolm Torrejón Chu with Right to the City Alliance Click Here.

Residents Fight for their Communities and Offer Solutions

HJL on the steps of City Hall

HJL on the steps of City Hall

On Thursday Oct. 12 Southside residents of Atlanta and Housing Justice League members and supporters delivered a  new report to City Hall showing gentrification and displacement from BeltLine development in Atlanta's historically Black Southside. The report by the Atlanta advocacy group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative, shows Southside residents are already being displaced by the Atlanta BeltLine greenway development even in neighborhoods that it has not yet touched. The Atlanta BeltLine, which will ultimately be a 22-mile loop of green parks, trails, and streetcars circling inside city neighborhoods along discontinued rail beds, is a force for gentrification and displacement of long-time, low-income residents, many of them Black. 

Proceeding the actual delivery of the report to City Council and the Mayor, participants of the research project gathered with their supporters, City candidates and elected officials, the press, and others on the steps in front of City Hall to hear from Southside Residents. All of the speakers emphasized the importance of community involvement and accountability in city planning in order to meet the critical needs of long-time residents and avoid the historical and continuing patterns of racism, displacement, and disinvestment.

As Alison Johnson, a Peoplestown resident and HJL member who helped author this report, says,

“Communities on the Southside deserve to be a part of the process to shape and determine the neighborhoods where we live. We want the kind of responsible, democratic city building that gives us the best quality of life, not that which is done by and for the wealthy.”

Research by the Atlanta community group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative, largely in the three historically Black neighborhoods of Adair Park, Peoplestown, and Pittsburgh, tracks the hopes of residents for the BeltLine, how they are actually affected by it, and the forces of gentrification that, if left unimpeded, will damage the economic and racial diversity that long-term residents and newcomers alike say is a strength of the area.

The report – “BeltLining: Gentrification, Broken Promises, and Hope on Atlanta's Southside” – builds upon analysis of census data, a survey, and a year-long participatory action research project. The researchers found that:

  • Residents overwhelmingly want to stay in their neighborhoods,
  • Gentrification has already raised property values and displaced people in historically Black neighborhoods not yet touched by BeltLine development, and
  • Atlanta failed to enact protections against displacement that have been effective in other parts of the country. It still has time to do so as the BeltLine turns its development eye to more of the historically Black Southside.

The report’s major recommendation is for Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated, the public-private partnership leading the development, and the City as a whole, is to embrace more democratic planning processes so that the interests of current residents are incorporated into development, and the supportive networks among neighbors are protected and appreciated.

Housing Justice League is itself helping to model what this kind of planning could look like for the city at large. The community-directed research report is part of Housing Justice League’s broader BeltLine For All campaign, seeking to create spaces that center resident voices and promote community engagement in the development process. The Monday following the press release (Oct. 16), Housing Justice League will officially launch the broader campaign with a community-centered event where people will be able to learn more about the research, connect, and sign up to volunteer and lift up their perspectives through the campaign.

BeltLine for All will seek to curb Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated’s irresponsible record on affordable housing through democratic participation, people pressure, and public policy. Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated was launched in 2005, when the Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Public Schools, and Fulton County all empowered a new Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District to fund both parks and more than 28,000 units of housing – only 5,600 units of it affordable – in neighboring areas. The hope of the BeltLine lies in its initial promises: to spur equitable development and to include a robust affordable housing strategy to prevent displacement.

But as Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated itself acknowledges, almost midway through the 25-year-long development period, fewer than 1,000 units of affordable housing have been built in the area, far short of the original goal, even as housing prices near the greenways are rising faster than in the city as a whole. This means the area is losing far more existing affordable housing than it is creating. And there are no rent regulations or alternative property tax policies to stop the surge. 

To learn more about the policy BeltLine for All will push for to turn around the unjust development practices displacing residents read the full report!

22 Cities, Including Atlanta, Deliver Clear Message Regarding HUD Cuts Today

Today tenant leaders along with members of the Housing Justice League delivered a letter to HUD’s regional office in Atlanta in protest of potential cuts to the HUD budget.

Atlanta is already in the grip of a historic affordable housing crisis and we must oppose the $7.4 billion in budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) proposed by President Trump and supported by Secretary Carson. If the cuts pass, Miami will be at-risk of losing nearly $24 million each year for housing assistance, and thousands of Miami residents who are currently in HUD-subsidized housing will be in jeopardy of becoming homeless.

Half of all renters in America are cost burdened, paying over 30 percent of their income to housing. This is over 21 million renter households. One in four of these pay over half of their income to housing, leaving no money left over for basic needs like food or childcare. We must expand, not reduce, federal funding for proven HUD programs.

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A safe and affordable place to live is a fundamental human right, and where we live has a direct, concrete impact on the opportunities that are available to ourselves and our children. To change this injustice, we will need the power of people coming together through organizing in local places all across America. We will need to use communities' organizing power to hold government accountable at the local, state and national levels. Good and just public policy can only be developed with the direct input and experiences of those impacted the most by that policy.

After we delivered the letter to HUD's regional office headed to Representative John Lewis' office which is right around the corner from HUD. Congressman Lewis is one of many who has oversight over HUD's budget. 

Today’s action was part of a national effort to prevent cuts to the already underfunded HUD. You can see what actions other cities took by checking out hashtags #NoHUDcuts and #NoCuts on twitter, Instagram, and facebook.

Faith Leaders to Unite at #TentCityATL

On Tuesday evening at 6:30 pm, faith leaders from different communities in Atlanta will hold a prayer session  for Georgia State University and Carter Development at #TentCityATL (755 Hank Aaron drive)On the days following Easter, faith leaders will pray that GSU and Carter respect the NPU-V community members and include them in development of Turner Field and the surrounding parking lots. They will pray that development projects not drive-out longtime residents as they have before. They will pray that Carter and GSU include community voices in a binding social contract that will ensure development benefits everyone in the community.

On April 1st residents of the area marched to the site formally known as Turner Field and set up a tent city. Residents have been staying there in an act of civil disobedience for 18 days through extreme weather and police intimidation. Our ask is simple; include longterm resident voices in the development of the area and so far Carter and GSU has refused to respond to numerous requests for a meeting.

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"For years, we have met with residents across Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville, and Pittsburgh to develop a Community Benefits Agreement to ensure that any development on the 80-acre Turner Field property benefits the community and our future generations," explains Deborah Arnold of Mechanicsville who has been camped out since April 1. "More than 1700 of us have partiicpated in community meetings to develop this CBA since the Braves announced thy were leaving, but Carter Development and GSU have refused to meet with us, and instead have slandered us and pushed forward plans for development that doesn't meet community needs."

"We're drawing a line in the sand. We won't allow GSU, Carter, or any other developer to extract wealth from our community. After suffereing through multiple mega developments that promised economic development and delivered broken promises this is our last stand for a community we want to be able to stay in," says long-term resident and Housing Justice League member Alison Johnson and an organizer of the #TentCityATL. "We no longer have anything to lose. If they aren't developing with us, they aren't developing for us."

Since the #TentCityATL began thousands have signed an online petition to bring Carter and GSU to the table and the story has been covered nationally.

Online petition: https://start2.occupyourhomes.org/petitions/support-a-community-benefits-agreement-for-the-turner-field-communities

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#TentCityATL Continues - Day 11

ATLANTA, GEORGIA -- More than 40 residents of four of Atlanta’s historically black neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field (Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh) are now in day 10 of a tent city occupation at the site of the former Atlanta Braves stadium in their fight for an accountable community benefits agreement. The fight is quickly becoming a national battleground between community-led organizing for equitable and fair development versus publicly supported luxury development taking place across the nation.

“For years, we have met with residents across Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh to develop a Community Benefits Agreement to ensure that any development on the 80-acre turner field property benefits the community and our future generations,” explains Deborah Arnold of Mechanicsville who has been camped out since April 1. “More than 1700 of us have participated in community meetings to develop this CBA since the Braves announced they were leaving, but Carter Development and GSU have refused to meet with us, and instead have slandered us and pushed forward plans for development that doesn’t meet community needs.” 

Last year the City of Atlanta sold the public stadium site to Carter Development and Georgia State University. Despite countless asks they have refused to meet with residents and resorted to spreading lies through the media about residents intentions, including implying that all residents want is a cash payout. Such a request has never happened.

“We didn’t make this decision to pitch tents lightly,” says Columbus Ward of Peoplestown. “We have families, we have jobs, we have responsibilities. But at the end of the day, Carter, GSU & the city are threatening the very existence of our neighborhoods. This is a fight for our future. For our right to remain and thrive. We refuse to be seen as commodities. We are real people.” 

On Monday residents will get a lift from students of Georgia State University who are organizing an action to call on GSU President Mark Becker to support local residents demands and urge Carter to negotiate a CBA.

“We’re drawing a line in the sand. We won’t allow GSU, Carter of any other developer to extract wealth from our community. After suffering through multiple mega developments that promised economic development and delivered broken promises this is our last stand for a community we want to be able to stay in,” says long-term resident and Housing Justice League member Alison Johnson and an organizer of the #TentCityATL.  “We no longer have anything to lose. If they aren’t developing with us, they aren’t developing for us.”

#TentCityATL is the latest in what are becoming increasingly regular and escalated fights led by working class communities and communities of color to push back against privately funded, publicly supported luxury development across the nation. In March, teenagers from Boston’s Egleston Neighborhood led a 3-night sit-in at the Mayor’s office to demand increased affordable housing and community engagement for development projects in their neighborhood. On March 31, Pittsburgh residents announced a major victory in their campaign to stop the the replacement of 300 units of affordable housing in the historically black East Liberty neighborhood when they got Whole Foods to back out of the development.

Some Atlanta residents aren’t waiting on the city, and are taking the fight to the ballot box. Tanya Washington -- a Peoplestown resident currently under threat of eminent domain related to the Turner Field development -- announced Thursday, she will run for city council after discovering that the city council member that represents her neighborhood has received campaign support from Carter Development.

“We’re not going anywhere,” says #TentCityATL and Housing Justice League organizer Alison Johnson. “Come down and join us. We’re planning actions for May Day, hosting movie nights and building community.”

There has been push back. One needs to look no further than the Peoplestown Next Door website to see all kinds of wild accusations about the #TentCityATL efforts. Although the draft Community Benefits Agreement has zero asks for pay out to individuals or organizations, newer white neighbors continue to claim the effort is about a cash grab. The reality is the Carter and GSU stand to extract billions of dollars from the up and coming neighborhoods and while this might excite already affluent homeowners it has produced a palpable anxiety amongst long term residents that have called these communities home for generations.

Monday night, a number of students and long term residents held a sit-in at GSU president Mark Becker’s office hoping to facilitate a meeting between Becker and longterm residents. Becker refused and instead had folks in the group, including former state house rep Douglas Dean , who has lived in the Pittsburgh neighborhood for over 50 years. As this blog post is being published, they have yet to be released.

One of the things we often hear is that gentrification is inevitable but around the country regular everyday people are fighting back and winning. #TentCityATL is a line in the sand around the issue of gentrification and mass displacement. At its core is the notion that those that live in a community should have a voice in what happens in it, that residents are not disposable, that there can be room for everyone to survive and thrive.

What can people do to support #TentCityATL?
1. 
Sign and share the online petition byclicking here
2. Donate to the #TentCityATL effort
3. More than anything there is a need to have folks there. there are regular events organized at #TentCityATL like this one. Donate an hour, donate a day, pop a tent and stand in solidarity with one of the most important fights in the city

Tent City at Turner Field

After the Braves announced that they would leave Turner Field, residents of the Summerhill, Peoplestown, Pittsburgh, and Mechanicsville neighborhoods met to discuss what they imagined could become of the almost 80 acres.

Over the course of 3 years, over 1700 residents and countless experts gave input on a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that would ensure that the community’s voice would be included in future development projects. The CBA ensures that whatever ends up at Turner Field will not displace long term residents who are loved and needed in their community.

Georgia State University and Carter Development have now purchased Turner Field. GSU and Carter have refused to meet with residents, however, despite many community groups’ attempts to reach out and initiate conversation. Moreover, GSU and Carter have resorted to spreading lies through the media about residents’ intentions, implying that all residents want is a cash payout, though residents have never made such a request.

Residents have drawn a line in the sand, however, and simply will not allow GSU, Carter, or any other developer to extract wealth from their community- one that has suffered through so many bad developments over the years. Residents demand to have a voice and a binding agreement about how their community is developed.

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That’s why residents and GSU students are taking a stand by organizing a Tent City, and we invite you to join! Follow the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition and the Housing Justice League on Facebook for updates!

You can support the tent city in several ways!

1. Sign the online petition here!

2. Come down and spend time at the Tent City, 755 Hank Aaron drive, it's a 24 hour occupation and the more people present the more powerful we are!

3. There are a lot of expenses and you can help by making a donation and spreading the word! Click here to donate!

4. Call Carter Development (404-888-3343) and GSU (404-413-1300) and tell them that residents aren't disposable. Sign a Community Benefits Agreement!

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Atlanta Beltline Survey

The Housing Justice League (HJL) of Atlanta is working on a six-month research project to track changes to affordability of housing across Beltline communities. If you live near the Beltline, please take a few minutes to complete this survey. The goal of the survey is to gather data that will help make the case for policies that protect low-income people's access to quality housing and prevent displacement across Atlanta. By completing this survey, you give HJL permission to use the data in a public report and website. However, no individual names will be used and all data at the neighborhood level will be anonymized in the report. 

Atlanta Beltline Survey

Turner Field Neighbors Disrespected and Threatened with Arrest at Carter International Development

Today residents with the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition delivered a petition to Carter Development urging the developer to sit with long term residents to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement. The petition delivery was organized as a result of Carter's CEO Scott Taylor’s refusal to meet with the coalition. The coalition, which is comprised over 30 organizations in the community has been trying to have open communication with Carter and GSU ever since the sales process begun. To date, the only residents Carter and GSU have been willing to meet with are homeowners in Summerhill who are primarily interested in their own property values.

“We want development in our community- we just ask to be included as there’s a history of broken promises from developers in Atlanta. We want to know that development in our community works for both new and long-term residents, and a binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is a huge step in that direction.” Stated long term resident and coalition member Alison Johnson.

Once residents showed up to Carter Development's office to deliver the petition, they were met with extremely aggressive building representatives that threatened to arrest them immediately. Some staff even put hands on residents who intended to deliver a petition to Scott Taylor.  Residents decided to kneel down and pray for their community, but building staff seemed set on yelling over clergy’s prayer. Security loudly yelled, “Get out now!”, as Imam Furqan A Muhammad with the Masjid Al Muminun Mosque in Peoplestown led the group in prayer.

What could have been a simple petition delivery urging a conversation with residents ended up highlighting the extreme disrespect and disdain that Carter Development, GSU, and some city officials have demonstrated through the whole Turner Field sale process. If Atlanta is going to be a city that works for everyone then this unsustainable, backroom deal approach to mega developments must change.

Carter and GSU along with Atlanta city officials did not plan the purchase with community members. This was a backdoor deal, which as stated above, has many conflicts of interest. Officials disrespected the democratic process used to create the CBA, ignored the communities, and refused them a seat at the table. They took the alternate route and bypassed the people because they decided the people don’t matter. 

Many residents are disappointed and scared of what this may mean for their community. “This is a hostile takeover of our communities for profit. This is ethnic cleansing,” noted resident and organizer Sherise Brown. "These back door deals happen because low-income, minority communities and long-term residents are not valued as stakeholders and partners. Instead we are looked down upon by outsiders.” 

For fifty years, the communities surrounding Turner Field have been neglected, an almost forgotten footnote in Atlanta’s race to prove it is the “city too busy to hate.”

Once thriving neighborhoods fell victim to the economic priorities of others: busy interstates divided communities and families; stadiums rose and fell, flooding communities with crime and raw sewage; local schools were neglected and underfunded; and promises for positive development were as empty as the scores of parking lots that litter the area.

Now, there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change all this.

It’s called the Turner Field Community Benefit Agreement (CBA). A Community Benefits Agreement is a legally-binding contract with the developer that describes mutually-agreed and enforceable goals for the development project. This agreement is driven by local residents and the over 40 community organizations that make up the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition.

What would a CBA mean for our communities? A world of difference–for everyone. A well implemented CBA could alleviate flooding; improve transportation and create new public space; provide jobs for residents and create opportunities for training, education and services for people of all ages; create housing for people of all incomes and prevent displacement of existing residents; and make our streets and communities safer and cleaner, while providing places to shop for people in the neighborhood.

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Activating Tenant Power

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On Thursday, Feb. 2nd, the Housing Justice League launched its new tenant leadership development training series. The series will take place every month at different apartment complexes, and include smaller trainings in between each month based on the needs of each complex.

The first training was held at Cityviews at Rosa Burney in the historic Mechanicsville neighborhood. Established resident leaders and new tenants came together to learn how to strengthen the City View tenant association, and how to connect with other tenant associations for victories around better HUD contracts, improved living conditions, and stronger Atlanta-based affordable housing policy. The trainings are open to any tenant who wants to begin the process of building or strengthening a tenant association or tenant union.

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If you are a tenant that would like to receive training, there are two ways to go about it. You can message the Housing Justice League at housingjusticeleagueatl@gmail.com about attending the next scheduled training, or you can inquire about hosting a training at your complex. The Housing Justice League provides training services at no cost. Now more then ever, Atlanta needs a tenant movement to combat rising rents and unbridled development. The Housing Justice League is committed to building this movement, one tenant association at a time.