What’s Next for Bowen Homes?
By Donnell Suggs
Archie Kemp was making his way down Field Road when he stopped to inquire what the reporter and photographer were doing in Bankhead? The unpaved, bumpy street led to a popular salvage yard, but there wasn’t any reason to be down there otherwise, in his opinion.
Kemp, a former Bowen Homes resident, was told that the journalists were there to report on the former Bowen Homes housing complex, since demolished in 2009, and the $40 million investment via a federal grant that will be used to “revitalize the neighborhood with affordable housing workforce development, and economic opportunities,” according to a June 26 press release from the Mayor’s Office.
Not only would the land that Bowen Homes once occupied would be a part of the revitalization, but parts of neighborhoods Carey Park, Almond Park, and Donald Lee Hollowell and James Jackson parkways would be too.
Kemp asked if that revitalization and investment would be good for the area then immediately answered his own question. “It’s good for the investors and the people who are going to be here in the future,” he said. “We don’t have millions of dollars so I guess that means we’re out.”
Of the 74 acres that are supposed to be developed, 53.9 acres is land that once housed thousands of people in Bowen Homes.
At the salvage shop down Field Road, Gray & White U-Pull-It, Rico Howard was wondering the same thing about whether any new development would change things, but his concern stemmed from the business side. “It should make the business grow. The more people, the more business,” said Howard, an employee at Gray & White the past five years. “Everybody’s got to drive.”
Howard once lived in Bankhead and now lives in Douglasville with his family. “Traffic will probably be a problem though.”
Gray & White manager Matt Kocher is thinking about traffic in another way. The investment should also lead to improved infrastructure throughout the neighborhood, which includes the road leading to the salvage yard. “We have been fighting with the city for years about getting this road fixed,” said Kocher. “Maybe it will help get the city over here.”
Carey Park has just under 2,000 residents and has a D- rating for housing and a D+ for public schools, according to a website that specializes in connecting people to schools. Almond Park earned a C- for housing, but maintained a D+ for its public schools.
Before it was demolished and made Atlanta one of a very few major American cities with a majority Black population without a public housing complex, Bowen Homes had fostered a reputation for violence. Maybe there’s a chance the initial investment can lead to a new-look Bowen Homes/Bankhead the same way gentrification and million-dollar investments changed Summerhill, for example. Only time will tell.
Editor’s Note: Atlanta City Council District 9 councilman Dustin Hillis was contacted for this story but did not respond before publication date.
Bowen Homes site to see second life with help of $40 million HUD funding
By Janelle Ward
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the distribution of a $40 million grant to the City of Atlanta and Atlanta Housing on July 26, for the reconstruction of the site formerly housing the Bowen Homes development by means of its Choice Neighborhoods Implementation program, an initiative dedicated to helping local governments bring their revitalization plans to life in order to better serve their communities.
The city plans to build more than 2,000 rentable and ownable housing units on the 74-acre site, helping to weaken the blow of Atlanta’s impending affordable housing crisis. Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens, Congresswoman Nikema Williams and U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock each contributed to securing the funding, which will add to the hundreds of millions of dollars already set aside for the project.
The $40 million award is the city’s second — and largest — from the HUD department’s Choice Neighborhoods Implementation program, the first of which was granted in 2015 to restore Vine City, areas surrounding the Atlanta University Center and other sections of west Atlanta.
“Bowen Choice Neighborhood will be transformative for northwest Atlanta, bringing affordable homes and a vibrant neighborhood back to the community,” Dickens said. “Atlanta Housing and all the members of our Affordable Housing Strike Force came together with community members to lay the groundwork for this funding.”
Eugene Jones Jr., president and CEO of Atlanta Housing, Georgia’s largest housing authority, said that the HUD department’s funding will prove instrumental in redeveloping the area by helping provide necessary resources for the community when renovations are complete.
“Atlanta Housing and the City of Atlanta have demonstrated that we can leverage $40 million in Choice Neighborhood funds into more than $500 million to successfully transform the Bowen Choice Neighborhood,” Jones said.
History of the development
Bowen Homes was completed in 1964 and named after prominent local clergyman and community leader Bishop J.W.E. Bowen, the second African American to receive a doctoral degree from an American university in the United States’ history.
Consisting of 650 units, the development was one of Atlanta’s largest public housing complexes, joining the ranks of Techwood Homes and University Homes, the first federally-backed public housing community designated for Black residents in the country.
The complex was erected to relocate families from the dilapidated slum Buttermilk Bottom and adjoining areas, now the site of Atlanta’s civic center and Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.
Aside from housing thousands of African Americans on the city’s westside over the course of the second half of the 20th century, Bowen Homes served as a communal meeting place for residents, as well as a hub for local activism. The community featured a male softball league, a civic club for senior citizens and a social group of teenage girls dedicated to religious and intellectual matters referred to as “the Bowenettes.”
Bowen Homes was also the site of a daycare explosion in 1980, an incident that resulted in the deaths of a teacher and four children, along with an estimated seven injuries.
Next steps forward
Atlanta Housing announced last October that its board of commissioners had selected a team of private developers to lead the Bowen Homes reconstruction project.
The housing authority has collaborated with developers and former members of the community to draft a vision for the neighborhood’s future, taking into account residents’ concerns regarding the current condition of the community.
The drafted neighborhood transformation plan includes acres of greenspace, improved and environmentally-friendly stormwater infrastructure and a connector linking the community to the nearby A.D. Williams Creek. The plan also features proposals to increase commercial activity within the neighborhood, making entrepreneurship easier for residents to attain by means of affordable rental spaces to establish businesses and job training opportunities, courtesy of the proposed Community Resources Center and Innovation Hub.
While no renderings of future plans have been released to the public as of yet, the housing authority has stated that the updates implemented will reshape the Bowen Homes community and surrounding areas into “a true interconnected neighborhood.”