A coalition is forming to try to put pressure on city leaders in Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville to address affordable housing along Buford Highway as redevelopment and gentrification rapidly descends along the international corridor.

More than 20 people gathered April 30 at the Center for Pan Asian Community Services in Chamblee as part of the Cross Keys Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative to discuss how rising rents and ongoing development are affecting the communities they serve, most notably by forcing people to move away.

More than 20 people recently gathered at the Center for Pan Asian American Community Services to discuss affordable housing on Buford Highway and how to urge city leaders to address the issue through policy. (Dyana Bagby)

The CKSNI is one of four clusters in the DeKalb Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative and was formed several years ago to revitalize the Cross Keys cluster. That cluster is a 10-mile by one-mile high school enrollment district that includes Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville and unincorporated DeKalb.

But what does affordable housing mean? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable as when housing expenses do not exceed 30 percent of household income.

Using recent Census figures, CPACS officials determined the area median income (AMI) for the Cross Keys cluster is $24,159, according to Sarah Brechin, program coordinator CPACS. Using HUD’s definition, affordable housing costs would not need to exceed $604 a month in this area.

Average rent now for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment along the Buford Highway corridor is estimated at $950 to $1,200 a month, according to Census figures studied by CPACS.

“That’s awful,” David Schaefer said at the meeting. Schaefer is the managing director of advocacy at the Latin American Association located on Buford Highway in Brookhaven.

Schaefer also chaired Brookhaven’s Affordable Housing Task Force. The task force was formed in late 2016 by the council after faith leaders in the city signed a letter urging something be done to halt the continuing displacement of people due to apartment complexes being torn down to make way for luxury townhomes. The task force made recommendations to the council last year, but no policies have been set to address the issue.

Without more people in power and setting policy, Schaefer said, working for affordable housing will continue to be a “fringe movement.”

“We’re on our heels already and that’s why we’re at this table,” he said.

Plaza Fiesta property manager Julio Penaranda was also at the meeting and said people being forced out of the Buford Highway corridor is affecting his business.

“If there are no residents, there are no shoppers,” he said. “The whole area is a perfect storm … as Buckhead is expanding out and property values are increasing.”

Doraville City Councilmember Stephe Koontz, the only elected official at the meeting, said when the GM plant in her city is redeveloped, the apartment complexes around it will be quickly torn down. She also acknowledged most elected officials do not care about the plight of most people living along Buford Highway because many are immigrants, are undocumented and do not vote.

“When you say affordable housing, what do they hear? They instantly think Section 8 and welfare queens,” she said.

“Elected officials cater only to voters and those are middle-class white people,” Koontz added.

Educating the public and elected officials about what affordable housing means is a necessary part of any campaign, Koontz said, and perhaps even changing language to mixed-income housing may be better as part of an ongoing campaign, she said.

“Affordable housing is a lightening rod to say … and it’s the quickest way to lose an election,” she said.

Gigi Pedraza, founder and executive director of the Latino Community Fund, agreed.

“What I hear over and over is, ‘Your people can’t vote,’ ” she said.

Betsy Eggers, chair of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, called for gaining support from faith communities.

“There are many communities of faith in the area. Don’t underestimate their impact on cities,” she said. “They are voters.”

Their first step in forming a coalition and ensuring affordable housing is on the radar of city leaders is a letter that is going around to nonprofit groups, churches, businesses and community leaders who live, work and play on Buford Highway. The letter will then be presented to the councils of the three cities and DeKalb County officials.

The letter, in part, states participants collaborating with CKSNI will participate in town halls, workshops or community discussions with CKSNI.

“The letter shows solidarity that we are already working on this,” CPACS Vice President Victoria Huynh said. “We need to be informing our city councils of what is happening.”

This story has been updated to correctly spell Victoria Huynh’s name. We apologize for the error.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.