Is there room for longtime residents in “that new Atlanta”?

With a marquee greenspace, a planned Microsoft campus, and other flashy new developments, Grove Park and Bankhead are ground zero for Atlanta gentrification. What happens to the people who are already there?

Quincey Patterson BankHead Priest
Quincey Patterson

Photograph by Growl

This story is part of Atlanta magazine’s Streets Issue—a block-by-block exploration of our city and the stories it tells. Find the entire package here.

It’s a sunny afternoon, and Quincey Patterson is parked outside his childhood home on South Eugenia Place. He’s reminiscing about growing up in Grove Park and Bankhead, when the area was bustling with kids walking to school, playing in the streets, throwing footballs, and riding bikes. “Until that streetlight came on, we were out here every day,” he recalls on his mixtape Westside of Atlanta.

Atlanta’s west side shaped Patterson’s identity as BankHead Priest—the rap moniker he goes by today—but it’s no longer home. The house Patterson’s grandparents bought in 1965 fell into foreclosure in 2008, and his family joined the more than 240,000 Black homeowners across the country who lost their homes when the recession hit.

The 35-year-old rapper has had his eyes on the home recently, with the intention of buying it back to preserve the family legacy. It sold for just under $30,000 in 2008 and then for $49,000 in 2018. A few months ago, the house made its way back on the market for $339,000—a 593 percent appreciation in three years, staggering even by Atlanta’s gentrification standards. Some community members attribute these skyrocketing prices to Microsoft, Quarry Yards, Echo Street, Westside Park, and other major developments that have come or will open in the area soon.

Once a tight-knit community of mostly Black families that remained resilient in the face of disinvestment during the white flight of the 1960s, Grove Park is starting to see its Black population shrink. Residents that remain have to drive miles to access a major grocery, pharmacy, or bank. “They took everything out and brought nothing back in except high-priced houses,” Patterson says. “They want that New Atlanta.”

In many ways, New Atlanta is an old pattern that’s unfolded for years in historically Black neighborhoods. Redlining, compounded by the urban renewal that began in the ’50s—or, as James Baldwin called it, “Negro removal”—followed by the demolition of housing projects and a sustained period of disinvestment all but guaranteed these communities would remain devalued and vulnerable to speculation and gentrification.

While the federal government may have been the key orchestrator of old urban renewal programs, the new model is fueled by public-private partnerships: corporations, philanthropic institutions, private real estate capital, and city governments working together in pursuit of “mixed-income communities.” But mixed-income development does not necessarily mean equitable development.

Grove Park Foundation, the largest nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the neighborhood, is currently following a mixed-income development playbook created by the East Lake Foundation after the East Lake Meadows housing project was torn down in the mid ’90s. The model is geared toward breaking up “concentrated poverty” and racial segregation. But now, two decades after it was instituted in East Lake, a new study contrasts the model’s touted success with a more sobering takeaway: The changes in poverty and crime were possibly “the result of changes of people, not changes for people,” writes Brett Theodos, senior fellow and director of the Community Economic Development Hub at the Urban Institute, pointing to the displacement and replacement of low-income Black residents.

Legacy residents of Grove Park are worried they’ll meet a similar fate and want to see community benefits agreements (CBAs) from developments. As legally binding contracts, CBAs are meant to hold developers accountable and require them to share some of the wealth, by providing livable wage jobs, community improvements, or set-asides for deeper affordability.

In Atlanta, however, similar agreements—or the promise of them—have been used as a tool by developers to temper demands from community organizers. Two prominent examples in the last decade include the community benefits plan following the Mercedes-Benz Stadium development and the community investment plan following the Braves’ relocation from Turner Field. Ultimately, both plans—not true CBAs, and, so, not legally binding—fell short of what community groups advocated for, and did little to alleviate gentrification in the neighborhoods surrounding them.

Beyond CBAs, residents want to see existing nonprofits like Grove Park Foundation do more to foster homeownership. Just 25 percent of the homes in Grove Park are owner-occupied. To address both the ownership gap and the lack of affordability, Grove Park Foundation has plans to implement an independent community land trust. Born out of the civil rights movement, community land trusts emerged as a way for Black people to collectively steward land and build permanently affordable housing in the face of persistent racist housing policies. Recently, land trusts have made a comeback across the country as a solution to the speculative housing market.

Back outside his childhood home on South Eugenia Place—its current price beyond his means—Patterson considers a pivot from his original plan. Though he’s unfamiliar with the land trust model, he harbors dreams with the same goal of community preservation: purchasing land to build affordable housing so Black families are no longer displaced.

For Patterson, it is no longer just about one family’s legacy but about a neighborhood’s—transforming Grove Park back into a community, with kids throwing footballs in the streets, just like he remembers.

This story was produced by Canopy Atlanta, a community-led journalism nonprofit, and adapted for this issue. Iyengar is the founder and chief ecosystem officer at the Guild, an organization developing equitable real estate for communities of color.

This article appears in our August 2022 issue.