Peoplestown residents continue fight to stay in homes

Seven years after the city of Atlanta ordered dozens of Peoplestown residents to leave their homes to make way for a park and pond project, only four people still live on the block. While their neighbors took deals from the city to sell and leave, they refused and stayed, waging a legal battle to keep their homes.

Their seven-year fight could end soon if a settlement agreement proposed by the city is approved by councilmembers.

Before they were razed, 10 houses sat between the homes of Tanya Washington and Bertha and Robert Darden on Atlanta Street in Peoplestown. They were among at least 20 homes that sat on a block devastated by flooding in 2012. The city proposed a park and a retention pond to stop future flooding and used eminent domain to acquire the houses.

But the remaining homeowners have long contended that the city’s plan to stop flooding in their neighborhood was unnecessary. They insisted the city only needed to clean the storm drains to prevent flooding in the area.

“This is where we’ve raised our children,” Darden said. “This is where we’ve helped raise our grandchildren. This is home for us.”

Darden spoke on the issue at a recent City Council meeting, prompting councilmen Michael Julian Bond and Andre Dickens to present legislation at a meeting earlier this month that could end the legal battle.

“We want to try to afford the folks that have lived there as many opportunities to remain in their homes as possible,” Bond said. Dickens and Councilwoman Carla Smith declined to be interviewed for this article. Peoplestown sits in Smith’s district.

The legislation was discussed but not voted on in the utilities committee last week, but Washington, 49, a Georgia State University law professor who moved to Peoplestown in 2010, remains hopeful: “I’m excited because it allows us to revisit the conversation.”


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‘This is my home’

The saga started in 2012 when the area suffered severe flooding from heavy rains, which overwhelmed the city’s drainage system, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time. City officials later discovered repeated flooding occurred because the city under-planned and overbuilt that part of town, where two streams converge underground.

In 2014, the Atlanta City Council approved a plan to buy the homes and convert the land into a park and pond.

After multiple protests about the city using its power to take the homes, the city agreed to allow one resident to stay: 93-year-old Mattie Jackson. Two years later, when the remaining residents refused to leave, the city filed a declaration of taking, which allowed the city to take the properties for public use. The four homeowners responded by filing appeals in court, but there hasn’t been movement on any of the cases since late 2018.

Remaining residents are still concerned about whether they can stay in their homes. Dwayne Agard’s home sits on Ormond Street, a corner behind Hick’s house. The 46-year-old has lived in the home since 1998 and said he simply chose to stay because “this is my home.”

“This was my major investment,” he said. “That’s why I never really left.” Agard planned on leaving it to his children. He has two daughters, one in college, but has suggested they go to school in a different state in case he no longer has a home for them to visit. Agard said 90 percent of his belongings are in boxes as he awaits a decision from the city and courts about his home.


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“It’s such an uneasy feeling to say you own your home but don’t own your home,” he said. “At any minute, you’re just waiting for a threatening letter from the city.”

The Dardens are hopeful after an April meeting with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “The meeting was very productive and I believe she heard us,” Darden said. A spokesperson for Bottoms said the city is continuing to have conversations with residents, but declined to discuss the ongoing legal matter.

The Dardens have lived at the home since 1987. Robert Darden, a retired city employee, went back to work four years ago to pay for their legal bills. Washington estimated $200,000 in legal fees were owed between her and the Dardens.

Bertha Darden, 64, said she’s still worried the city could take her home at a moment’s notice. “My husband and I are ready to live our lives the way we want to live it without having the city dictate to us where we’re going to stay.”

While Jackson, now age 97, was allowed to keep her home, her daughter Sheryl Calhoun worries once Jackson dies the city will re-ignite its fight to take the homes on the block.

Jackson has dementia, Calhoun said, and still sifts through newspaper articles about the case, which often brings back jarring memories.

“I’m not a doctor, but I believe the ordeal with the homes being taken through eminent domain had a lot to do with mom’s declining health,” she said.

Despite the challenges in years past, the remaining residents are hopeful they can reach a settlement with the city that ends with them keeping their homes.

“This is a chance for the mayor to show that she really cares about legacy residents in her city,” Washington said.


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