Deborah Arnold, a long time Mechanicsville resident, spoke about what she believes the neighborhood needs and it wasn’t housing for homeless people. “We don’t need anymore stress in our community,” she said. Photo by Keri Phox/The Atlanta Voice

Deborah Arnold waited patiently in the back of a meeting room inside the Dunbar Neighborhood Center Wednesday night. She and a couple of dozen of her Mechanicsville neighbors were there for what was supposed to be an information session on a proposed housing project hosted by City of Atlanta District 4 councilman Jason Dozier. The session quickly turned into a hour-and-a-half long listening session with the citizens of Mechanicsville playing host to Dozier and a trio of City of Atlanta staffers.

Dressed in a white Tennessee State University t-shirt and wearing red eyeglasses, Arnold proceeded to share her thoughts on a new development being built for the unhoused near where she lives at 405 Cooper Street. After sharing a story of a homeless woman standing outside of her apartment threatening to burn down the door with a lighter and what looked like a bottle of lighter fluid, Arnold said. “We don’t need any more stress in our community.”

This meeting was less about what the project is, a collection of tiny home-like structures that will be used to house homeless people at what is now a vacant lot on Cooper Street in the heart of one of Atlanta’s oldest historic Black neighborhoods, and more about what the people of Mechanicsville want. Mechanicsville has been without economic and major residential development for decades and residents attending the meeting Wednesday night don’t want what the City of Atlanta wants for that site.

“You need to listen to what the people want instead of telling us what you want,” said Jasper Grissett, who along with his wife attended the meeting. 

The meeting, held at the Dunbar Neighborhood Center on Windsor St., is the first of several opportunities for Mechanicsville residents to voice their thoughts on neighborhood development projects.
Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

This was the first of a series of meetings where discussions will take place in order to get the community’s feedback,” said Dozer, who admitted it was planned very well.

“We whipped this up very quickly,” he said. “This will be the first of many we will have about this issue. We want to make sure we hear from as many people as possible.”

The land at 405 Cooper St. is owned by Atlanta Public Schools and will be a part of a land swap if approved by the Executive Finance Committee which will vote Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 1:30 p.m. inside committee room one inside City Hall. 

The consensus, at least inside the meeting room Wednesday night, is that the community does not want to discuss how to best use the vacant lot at 405 Cooper Street if that plan includes housing for the homeless population of Mechanicsville.

“We want to have the ability to grow our community,” said Jason Staten, a Mechanicsville homeowner. “I don’t feel like there’s a real context in how it affects the person right next to you.” 

Several people echoed Staten’s statements, including some that said Mechanicsville remains a food desert while Summerhill, for example, has seen plenty of economic development, including the opening of a Publix supermarket

“We are not looking forward to having them in our community,” Sharon Cook, a resident of Mechanicsville for over 60 years, said. 

Despite several cries that this project would not be a homeless shelter, but instead will be housing for people that are experiencing homelessness, the Mechanicsville residents in attendance believe they will not truly have a say in what is built when it does get built. “We can’t see what’s going on behind the iron curtain,” Staten said. 

Dozier remained positive throughout the meeting despite  negative comments from some people at the meeting. “This is something we have never done in the city before,” he said of the Rapid Housing Initiative, which is also set to take place on land at 184 Forsyth Street that was once used as a parking lot.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...