In talking about the change in DeKalb’s southside population, Steen pointed to Hidden Hills, a golf community that had one of the highest concentrations of wealth (black and white) in metro Atlanta in the 1990s. Today, the homeowners association struggles to get dues paid and maintain a sense of community. I lived in a rental house (one of many) there for a year.
While a handful of faithful homeownerss tried to keep up maintenance in the common areas and rally camaraderie, the results were often disappointing. They have beautiful homes that would fetch two or three times as much if they were a few miles north. Once the neighborhood declined, so did the housing values.
Levetan, who lives in the Lakeside area, doesn’t deny that race may be a factor in the divide, but said she sees better government accountability as a way to fix the problems. She recalled a community relations commission that brought geographical, economic and ethnic diversity to the same table. It was a way to allow different points of view to have an equal voice, she said.
That body no longer exists and with hundreds of longtime county employees taking a retirement deal in the recent past, DeKalb is lacking the experience and institutional knowledge to get things done the way it used to.
Both women are optimistic, however, that DeKalb isn’t down for the count. Putting all communities on a more equal footing and embracing differences instead of acting as if they don’t exist is a way to mend the divide, they said. It won’t happen overnight, but with the right leadership it can happen.