Roger Gant sat on his bicycle across the street from where a $150 million renovation is taking place to reinvent the Meadows on the Northeastside of the city.
Phase one of the 248-apartment complex called East Village at Avondale Meadows is complete. The long term plan is to have 800 units. It will have 70 percent occupancy reserved for low-to-moderate income residents while the rest will be offered at market rate.
Gant was smiling because at 56, he remembered when the apartments were a thriving community where parents felt safe to allow their children to play outside. He also remembers when poverty and drugs turned the neighborhood into an environment littered with crime.
"It wasn't safe for anyone," he said. "Looking at what (the city) is doing, I believe the Meadows is going to be safe again. A place people will be proud to live at."
The new Avondale Meadows is going to be much more than housing units. It is going to be a community enriched in changing lives. The revitalization project includes cradle-to-college educational opportunities, mixed income housing, youth and development programs, new employment opportunities as well as health and wellness programs. The enormity of the project was shown at a ribbon cutting ceremony this week that was attended by billionaire Warren Buffett who has invested millions into the project along with Tom Cousins, founder of Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based non-profit consulting group leading the efforts.
Purpose Built Communities began in the early1990s by making over an area called East Lake in Atlanta, a community similar to the Meadows where decayed housing, failed schools, joblessness and widespread crime and drugs was the norm. Today, that community is called the Villages of East Lake and the turnaround that took place is remarkable. In 1995, the crime rate in East Lake was 18 times the national crime rate; in 2011 the area has 50 percent lower crime than the city of Atlanta. The employment rate increased from 13 percent in 1995 to 70 percent this year, and the 5 percent achievement in 5th grade math has changed to 98 percent achievement.
"Our standard is not creating a cosmetic change to a community because history tells us over many decades that such superficial improvements won't last," said Shirley Franklin, board chair and CEO of Purpose Built Communities and the former mayor of Atlanta. "Our standard is much, much higher by providing the essentials to help support families so that they may attain better lives."
At the ribbon cutting, Mayor Greg Ballard said he believes Avondale Meadows can mirror the success of East Lake. He said the opportunities being offered to residents in addition to affordable housing is the key component to break the cycle of generational poverty.
"It's so easy to blame parents (about the cycle of poverty), but maybe that's not really the case because if parents have lived in poverty it's difficult to teach the children," said Ballard. "That's why this holistic approach is so important because sometimes the parents need help to help their child. When you bring all of these elements together and they have the quality of life that the middle class and upper class have, things can begin to change."
Buffett, the second richest American with a net worth of $39 billion said he invested in the project because it had a successful blue print.
"I look for opportunities to join successful models and successful people," he said.
Gene Zinc, chairman and CEO of Strategic Capital Partners, LLC, said nearly 2,800 calls have been fielded from people seeking a lease. Next month, residents who have yet to view a model will occupy 54 units.
When the residents move in, they will be able to witness first hand an incredible transformation. When construction is complete, there will be 250 townhomes and single family homes, 600 mixed-income apartments, a 70,000 square foot health and wellness center, a full-service grocery store, five acres used for a community park and garden, and recreational walking, running and biking paths.
In addition, children will attend schools (Challenge Foundation Academy and The Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School) located in the Meadows area with a proven track record of success. Adults and parents will also have the opportunity to continue their education with the Excel Center, a high school for adults, to serve 300 students who are interested in general studies, medical and child development careers.
"We want parents to be able to raise their children in an environment where they can succeed because they feel safe," said Ballard. "You have to have all of these different elements to make sure that happens."
For more information, call (317) 539-3201 or visit the website: www.discovereastvillageapts.com.