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Habitat for Humanity's plan for Sylvan Hills draws neighborhood's ire

Atlanta Habitat for Humanity has plans for a 10-acre parcel in Sylvan Hills located just blocks from the Oakland City MARTA station and practically across the street from the old U.S. Army fort that Tyler Perry wants to turn into Hollywood South. On the property between Langston Avenue and Evans Drive, the well-known nonprofit wants to build at least 27 homes on the parcel. 
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? One problem: some residents of the historic southwest Atlanta community do not necessarily like the plan they see.
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? The struggle to find the best use of such prime land is similar to discussions held in other parts of the city about how to build the “beloved community,” says Sylvan Hills resident Julie Borders, using a phrase popularized by Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. to describe communities of decency and goodwill.
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? “How can we gentrify graciously?” she says.
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? The property, which sits in a ZIP Code that’s working to dig itself out of the foreclosure crisis, was donated to Atlanta Habitat this summer. About five acres of the parcel is platted for 27 residential lots each sized around 0.20 acres. The rest of the land is zoned industrial. (The acreage passed environmental studies, and no issues were found anywhere, according to Habitat.) If that zoning were changed, Habitat could build more homes, perhaps as many as 40 altogether.
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? Habitat plans to show sketches of their design plans at a meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m at the nonprofit’s headquarters at 824 Memorial Drive.
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? Would-be Habitat buyers must put in sweat equity before they can qualify to buy one of the nonprofit’s homes. Atlanta homes have 3 or 4 bedrooms, and are sold at around $115,000 each on average. Homeowners pay no interest on their mortgages.
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? What makes some Sylvan Hills residents nervous is not the prospect of owner-occupied housing. First, they wonder whether the homes that Habitat builds will match the architectural character — think brick bungalows and cottages  — of the neighborhood. They also question if the Habitat proposal is the best way to use the land in a place where there are already boarded-up houses, not enough jobs, and a huge new development on its way at Fort McPherson. Some neighborhood residents have already broached the subjects with Habitat.
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? “Among many of the neighbors, one of the suggestions was, could Habitat come in and fix up some of our blighted homes,” said Robby Caban, a realtor who lives in neighboring Capitol View. She attended a meeting with Habitat both as a concerned resident and as economic development chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit X, which includes Sylvan Hills.
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? The 30310 zip code was hit hard by mortgage fraudsters a decade ago. Even now, property prices do strange things. What would charitably be called a fixer-upper near the Habitat parcel recently sold for $25,000. Two blocks away, a restored home sold for $175,000.
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? Ralph Long, a former state representative and realtor who restored the 1932 Sylvan Hills bungalow where he lives, says he thinks that houses priced at even $300,000 to $400,000 could sell if placed on Habitat’s land. A Habitat development, he says, “is not the highest and best use of the land.”
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? “We’ve got enough affordable housing,” he says.
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? Long thinks the nonprofit should refurbish homes that already in the neighborhood if they want to do good. However, Atlanta Habitat's policies say the nonprofit renovates only houses that were built by Habitat or its volunteers. "If we acquire a property with a vacant house on it, we demolish that house and build to our own green standards," the nonprofit's FAQ says
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? Borders said she would like to see something on the acreage that would help people become self-sufficient. She praises an idea like Club E, a facility in College Park that’s part co-working space, part incubator for local businesses.
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? “We don’t want gentry to come in and throw people out. Pick people up to help them, not to throw them out,” she says.
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? Months ago, NPU-X reviewed land throughout the planning group’s borders and identified places that they thought could be used to attract investments and jobs to the area.
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? The land now belonging to Habitat was one of those blocks. The NPU held meetings about the parcel, Caban says, and has gotten commitments to help from developers, investors, consultants, and philanthropists.
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? “Local nonprofits and community advocacy groups, along with workforce programs, are also on board for a holistic approach to rebranding and ethically transforming” the area, she says.
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? Atlanta Habitat has not yet presented any plan to the NPU, so the NPU has no official comment on it.
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? The nonprofit’s officials stress that they are in the very early stages of planning and want to work with the NPU and the neighborhood association. But she notes that their lean building model is somewhat simple, and for a reason.
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? “All of our houses are energy efficient and they do have standard floor plans,” says Melissa Klein, senior family services manager of Atlanta Habitat. “We build our houses with volunteers and sponsors and staff so our floor plans have to be fairly straight forward,” she said.
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? “We do build one-story homes, as are most homes in Sylvan Hills,” Klein says. “We have accepted working with the neighborhood association to talk about how our houses look and what could be done to help them complement the existing structures that are in the neighborhood.”
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? There might even be the possibility that Habitat could stray from its stated policy on not renovating non-Habitat homes. At an Atlanta Beltline Inc. board meeting on Wednesday morning, President and CEO Paul Morris said that he and Lisa Gordon, Habitat's CEO and a former Beltline chief operating officer, are exploring a partnership that could include rehabbing homes along the project. Sylvan Hills is considered a Beltline neighborhood.
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?UPDATE, 4:12 p.m.: Sarah Fedota, an Atlanta Habitat spokeswoman, says in an email:
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??? Atlanta Habitat and the Atlanta Beltline are currently in conversation around the issue of affordable housing to advance the mission both organizations. We’re in the early stages of conversation, and no areas or neighborhoods have been identified. Our discussion with the Atlanta Beltline is not related to Creative Loafing’s recent inquiry about Sylvan Hills.
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?Additional reporting by Thomas Wheatley
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