The Oct. 4 Transform Westside Summit centered around an exciting announcement: the launch of Westside Future Fund (WFF)’s Home on the Westside initiative. Summit attendees heard from a panel of speakers, which included WFF staff, Regina Grant, program director at On the Rise Financial Center and residents of Atlanta’s Historic Westside.
Moderating the panel discussion, WFF president and CEO John Ahmann began by sharing the vision for Home on the Westside: to recreate a mixed-income community by mitigating displacement; developing high-quality, affordable rental housing; supporting a clear renter-to-homeowner pathway; attracting new residents through workforce development and market-rate housing; and ultimately returning the area to a population of 40,000.
“The real challenge in these communities is a lot of folks are renting from private investors who are raising their rents rapidly,” Ahmann said. “Folks are working hard but at a low wage and can’t afford rising rent prices.”
Home on the Westside and the Community Retention that WFF’s Board of Directors have adopted is helping to deliver a more sustainable solution.
Ahmann then introduced panelists, each of whom shared more about Home on the Westside: Joan Vernon, WFF director of neighborhood engagement and English Avenue resident; Leslie Canty, English Avenue resident and community support individual (CSI) at CHRIS 180; Rushie Bonner, Vine City resident, Hollis Innovation Academy parent and certified nursing assistant for CSA Homecare; Ebony Ford, English Avenue resident, founder of “English Avenue Tea” and IT Help Desk analyst at the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning; and Regina Grant, program director at On the Rise Financial Center.
“These panelists represent different elements of Home on the Westside,” Ahmann explained before inviting Vernon to outline exactly how the program works.
Vernon explained that the properties available through Home on the Westside are owned and operated by WFF, which uses the Community Retention Guidelines to ensure the program serves those already invested in the Westside communities.
“Seven two-bedroom units are available now, and by the end of October, there will be six more two- and three-bedroom units online,” Vernon said. “So if you’re interested in a rental unit or in homeownership opportunities, you can enroll today or apply online.”
Vernon also noted that interested renters or buyers can apply in person at Home on the Westside’s leasing office at Villas at the Dome.
“The opportunity is here now for us to not only be able to have housing on the Westside, but affordable housing that prioritizes resident retention like we all have been asking for,” Vernon said.
Next, Ahmann invited Ford to share about her enrollment in WFF’s Anti-Displacement Tax Fund, one of the pillars of the Home on the Westside program.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ford said of the Anti-Displacement Tax Fund. “I applied, got in, and my taxes are being paid for me. I’m able to stay in my home, in my neighborhood that I love with my son, Jeremiah.”
According to Ahmann, only 16% of households on the Westside are owner-occupied, substantially lower than the 50% average for the rest of Atlanta. As more people move to Westside neighborhoods, the challenge of being a homeowner only becomes greater as property appraisals and taxes continue to rise. The Anti-Displacement Tax Fund was created as an answer to this problem.
“It’s for legacy homeowners,” Ahmann said. “Once they apply, WFF will pay all future tax appreciation. It’s effectively a tax-freeze from the homeowner perspective.”
One of the greatest barriers to homeownership is the financing aspect, which is why On the Rise Financial Center plays such a critical role in the Home on the Westside program, offering financial coaching to interested homebuyers.
“Any agency can do financial education, but the thing that makes On the Rise so unique is we also couple financial products and services with the education we provide,” Grant said.
On the Rise Financial Center has partnerships with banks and credit unions in the community whereby those who work with On the Rise are eligible to apply for resources through Equifax, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and WFF.
“We want to show you we support you and we’re behind you 100%,” said Grant, who has been in the financial education industry since 2002. “I’m a native Atlantan. I’ve seen the transformation, and I’m happy to be a part of the revitalization going on in this community.”
The two main factors impacting the cost of a home are building costs and land price. According to Ahmann, even if building prices remain relatively low, the cost of the land continues to rise due to development of the area. As such, Home on the Westside offers down-payment assistance with the help of its partner organizations like Invest Atlanta, On the Rise Financial Center and others.
Through the Home on the Westside program and with the help of these partner organizations, Canty and his family transitioned from being renters on the Westside to being proud English Avenue homeowners.
While buying a home can be a tough process, Canty said being able to purchase his home was a testament to organizations like the Atlanta Police Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, WFF and On the Rise Financial Center that came together to provide assistance in their journey to becoming homeowners.
“On the Rise Financial Center representatives were always encouraging us, letting us know we were moving in the right direction,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them helping us, we wouldn’t be in this position.”
Reflecting on the impact Home on the Westside has had for Canty, he said he is grateful to be able to remain in his community. “I didn’t want to leave the place I worked so hard in, the place I love, the community that I know and people I see every day.”
According to Ahmann, WFF has been quietly purchasing abandoned lots in English Avenue in preparation to launch Home on the Westside and now owns 80 to 90 single-family lots, which will be available for purchase or rent-to-own. In addition to these homes, Home on the Westside offers affordable renting opportunities like those available at Villas at the Dome, where Bonner is a four-year resident.
“It’s just a good community to live in,” she said of her neighborhood. “I never want to move out of the community because of the people here.”
As Bonner said, neighbors watch out for younger kids in the community, and the area schools are providing incredible opportunities for her children. “My kids are currently students at Hollis Innovation Academy. The school has so many great programs and the best principal we’ve had on this side of town in a long time.”
Ahmann said Hollis Innovation Academy is one of the fastest improving schools of those in the Atlanta Public Schools system, which is yet another reason why mitigating displacement on the Westside is critical. “We don’t want families who go to Hollis to get displaced and have to go to another school,” he said, underlining WFF’s dedication to current residents and the support Home on the Westside will provide to enable families to stay and benefit from the area’s revitalization.
During the final minutes of the Summit, attendees were given an opportunity to ask questions of the panelists.
One attendee asked, “How can we have consistent opportunities in our local schools for parents?”
Grant shared that through On the Rise Financial Center, parents can benefit from one-on-one coaching sessions based on staff schedule, parent schedule or even through the PTA.
“We can also bring the Anti-Displacement Tax Fund program to you through schools,” Vernon said.
Another attendee asked, “How can we encourage more nonprofits and those [organizations] that manage housing funds to focus more on retention for housing, like stabilizing families and not just housing?”
Ahmann acknowledged this as a valid concern facing the Westside. “We’re trying to figure this out because it’s a tough issue, because the rents are increasing so fast,” he said. “Longer term, what we’re trying to do is develop enough high-quality, affordable, permanent units where this isn’t a risk anymore.”
In reference to the average $19,000 to $20,000 annual income in the community, an attendee asked, “What’s the barrier to earning higher wages so we can have long-term sustainability for housing? Nothing is going to happen if people don’t make more money.”
In response, Ahmann shared the City of Atlanta is helping increase wages and job opportunities across the city, but that people must be willing to do the necessary training through organizations like Westside Works, Atlanta Technical College and the Workforce Innovation Hub at City of Refuge to succeed in these new jobs.
For more information about Home on the Westside or to apply, visit www.westsidefuturefund.org/homeonthewestside.
Opening Devotion with Rev. Winston Taylor
The Summit began with an inspiring devotion led by Rev. Winston Taylor, during which he challenged attendees to stop working in silos and instead work together as a real collective. “We serve a God who expects us to get the job done, but you’re not going to get the job done in a silo,” he said.
Through his message, Taylor empowered the group to come together to restore the culture and spirit of our community (much like Nehemiah did in his lifetime). “When we look at the Westside, there needs to be a holistic restoration,” he said. “Yes, we’ve made great strides here. Yes, we’ve done great work, but the work has yet to be completed.”
Additional Summit Highlights
- Next Summit: Friday, Oct. 18. Register here.
- The next Westside Future Fund (WFF) Volunteer Day of Service will be on Saturday, Oct. 26. Register here.
- Free shuttle to the Summit: The Cute Shuttle offers free, scheduled pickups on the Westside to help residents get to and from Summit events on the first and third Fridays of the month. Learn more.
- Summit Feedback: If you have feedback about our Summit events, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Home Depot Gift Card Raffle: Summit attendees who are current Westside residents or who work for a nonprofit serving Westside neighborhoods have a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Home Depot at each Summit event. Congratulations to Hattie Pollard, the Oct. 4 winner, pictured below.
Transform Westside Summit – Friday, October 4
Transform Westside Summit – Friday, October 4 About the Transform Westside Summit: Westside Future Fund’s Transform Westside Summit is held on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month and is free and open to the public. Our audience includes a diverse group of stakeholders. Longtime neighborhood residents, community and faith leaders, heads of non-profits and corporate executives come together to share success stories and discuss challenges that currently affect our Westside neighborhoods. Doors open at 7:00 a.m. and meetings begin promptly at 7:15 a.m. with morning devotion,* presented by a member of the historic Westside community, and complimentary breakfast, provided by Summit sponsor Chick-fil-A. Special Event: Atlanta Technical College Enrollment Atlanta Technical College (ATC) is bringing its Wednesday Works recruiting and enrollment event to the Summit. Typically hosted on Wednesdays on the ATC campus, representatives will be on site during the Friday morning Summit sharing about how prospective students can get started at Atlanta Tech. Those who apply at the Summit will have their ATC application fee waived. Take a Free Shuttle to the Summit A free shuttle will do scheduled pickups on the Westside to help you get to the Summit. Summit Shuttle Pickup Locations: At-Promise Center (740 Cameron Madison Alexander Boulevard, NW); Hollis Innovation Academy (225 James P. Brawley Drive, NW). Pickup Times: 6:50 AM – 7AM. Many in our community are driven by their spiritual faith to participate in the Westside revitalization effort. The time at the beginning of our meetings is an opportunity to share various inspirational reflections. While the speakers may articulate their personal faith, it is meant to be inclusive, inspiring and meaningful. All are welcome.
Posted by Westside Future Fund on Friday, October 4, 2019