In 2005, on the day before Thanksgiving, a fire destroyed two apartment buildings in the Village of Bedford Pine and left sixty people homeless. In the eight years since, the corner lot at Boulevard and Angier where the apartments once stood has remained vacant. During that time, Wingate Companies, which owns and manages Bedford Pine, the largest Section 8 subsidized housing project in the Southeast, has talked about redeveloping that lot—and dozens of other properties it owns along the Boulevard corridor.
It looks like something’s finally going to happen. This evening, at a joint meeting of the Fourth Ward Alliance and Fourth Ward West community associations, Wingate will present its plans for City Lights, a new Section 8 building on the lot at Boulevard and Angier.
Although there’s been friction between the neighborhood associations, Wingate, and Bedford Pine in the past, relationships improved over the past year as Year of Boulevard projects helped the various groups get to know each other, and Wingate repainted, repaired, and refurbished its properties.
While some residents are wary about new Section 8 housing, overall response to City Lights has been optimistic. After all, Wingate’s new building would replace a lot that’s been empty for almost a decade. And with development booming a few blocks east at Ponce City Market and Historic Fourth Ward Park, residents are eager to see something happen along Boulevard proper.
“I think people want to have a positive outlook on this. New construction would really refresh Boulevard,” said Dan Weinstein, vice president of the Fourth Ward West neighborhood association, which represents an area roughly bounded by Boulevard, the Baker-Highland Connector, and North Avenue. “Something attractive with good landscaping will go a long way toward improving the neighborhood.”
It took two-and-a-half years navigating the bureaucracy at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for Wingate to secure approval for City Lights, according to Ralph Cole, who flew down from the company’s Boston headquarters a few weeks ago to discuss the planned building with a group of community leaders.
Here’s what makes the project “precedent setting,” according to Cole: Wingate’s proposed “City Lights” development will be a facility of eighty one-bedroom apartments dedicated for residents aged 62 and up.
This will be the first time HUD approved a Section 8 property to be designated for seniors only; to avoid discrimination, the department previously prohibited setting aside units based on any demographic designation. By reserving a building for older residents—or “bifurcating” the residents of Bedford Pine in HUD speak—Wingate will meet a growing demand in Atlanta, where the number of senior citizens is rising.
“This is a new national model,” Caleb Racicot, senior principal with Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Associates architecture and planning firm, told the group, which gathered at the TSW offices in Midtown in late May. It also is “truly urban” design and complies with the Old Fourth Ward master plan created a few years ago, he said.
All eighty of the one-bedroom City Lights apartments will be Section 8—designated for low-income tenants who qualify for federal rent subsidies. But this will not mean a net increase in subsidized apartments in Bedford Pine. Wingate’s total apartments can’t exceed 733, the number approved for Bedford Pine by HUD in the 1970s. Building City Lights will allow Wingate to remodel or redevelop at least five of its existing buildings as non-Section 8 projects.
To put it bluntly, here’s what this means in the long term: Diluting the concentrated poverty on Boulevard. Right now, the 2,400 residents of Bedford Pine represent more than a quarter of the Old Fourth Ward’s population. If some Wingate properties become non-Section 8 and other lots on Boulevard are redeveloped, it would bring in more working- and middle-class residents. That could mean more stability in the neighborhood, more customers for businesses and restaurants, more kids enrolled in local schools, and more people out on the streets and sidewalks.
And unlike gentrification in other sections of Atlanta, an influx of new, presumably more affluent, residents will not drive out longtime, poorer ones. Wingate has a contract with HUD for the next two decades. Bedford Pine isn’t going anywhere—and no one wants to displace the 700 families who live there. But this first step in long-awaited redevelopment could be a catalyst for making the Boulevard corridor a better place for everyone who lives there.
After community presentations, Wingate’s City Lights development plan will be reviewed by the city zoning board June 13.