The City Council on April 27 approved plans for using a federal grant that aims to assist economically disadvantaged areas of the city — especially the Buford Highway corridor — with such programs as tenants’ rights education, code enforcement and housing rehabilitation help.
The city expects to receive about $350,000 annually over the next five years from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD). These funds are intended to go toward improving housing, neighborhood and employment conditions within the city for Brookhaven’s low- and moderate-income residents.
The council adopted the five-year Consolidated Plan and the 2021 Action Plan during its April 27 meeting. According to Director of Strategic Partnerships Patty Hansen, the plan can now be submitted to HUD to qualify Brookhaven as an entitlement community.
Brookhaven began collecting public input for the plan in January of this year to help decide where and how funds should be spent. According to the plan, the city’s public input process included online surveys in English and Spanish, and the city received 479 responses.
The plan breaks down Brookhaven’s “needs” into five categories: Housing needs, homeless needs, non-homeless special needs, economic development needs and community development needs. The main area of interest for improvements is the Buford Highway corridor, but some improvements can be citywide.
While the consolidated plan covers the next five years, the plan lists nine projects that are to be undertaken in the next year. Most of the projects will target the Buford Highway Corridor, which was found to have the greatest concentration of households with severe housing problems, according to the plan. Those housing problems can include lacking a kitchen, incomplete plumbing facilities, or overcrowding. Buford Highway also has a significant immigrant population, including a large Hispanic community.
Residents can read the Consolidated Plan on the city’s website.
Project One: Administrative and Planning
The administrative and planning project allocates $72,246.80 to “planning and administering projects and activities for the CDBG program,” according to the plan. These funds are to be used to oversee the program in its entirety and ensure compliance with federal regulations.
City spokesperson Burke Brennan said in an email that these funds have been used for the development of the five-year Consolidated Plan, the Annual Action Plan, and an Impediments to Fair Housing Study, which documents fair housing issues Brookhaven faces and identifies ways to address those issues. He also said the funds will go towards a Consolidated Annual Report, which will be released next year.
Project Two: Fair Housing Services
This project will aim to support housing stability and improve overall housing quality, according to the plan. In an interview, Hansen said this project will focus on community outreach and making sure residents along the Buford Highway Corridor understand their rights as renters.
A total of $5,000 will be allocated towards this project and the project could benefit up to 50 families, according to the plan. Activities for this project could include “literature distribution, education or testing.”
Hansen said offering more housing education to renters along Buford Highway and making sure that education is put out in multiple languages could help better serve non-English speakers living in those areas. Dia Parker, the executive director of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway — an organization that helps foster community development among those living in apartment complexes on Buford Highway — said more educational resources and assistance would be important for those communities.
“If the city is going to continue to provide sort of naturally occurring affordable housing alongside some of their more luxury projects, then educating tenants and landlords on the Fair Housing Act, having multi-lingual code enforcement resources, and ensuring that there’s funding not just for the short term, but for the long term for these educational resources … are all things that I think the city could improve upon,” Parker said in an interview.
Project Three: Workforce and Entrepreneurial Development
This project aims to increase the median household income of Brookhaven residents. $10,000 will be allocated towards this project, and the city hopes to serve up to 50 low- or moderate-income families, according to the plan.
The plan states that this project would include activities to support residents looking to gain necessary skills to enter the workforce or start businesses of their own. Hansen said the project could include job training for specific industries, such as the food industry, or software or tech training.
“We have unemployed and underemployed [residents] that need to work on skills,” Hansen said. “It might be getting a certificate for food service — that’s a very specific thing. We have partners who will provide us with space, we can work with different partners who have those courses set up.”
Project Four: Neighborhood Safety
This project aims to offer programs and activities that will help keep neighborhoods safe along the Buford Highway Corridor. According to the plan, $5,000 will be allocated toward this project, which aims to benefit up to 100 people.
Hansen said the city does not know what exactly these funds will be used for, but they wanted to make sure the funds were available just in case.
“If there’s any support that’s needed we wanted to make sure we had some funds in there,” Hansen said. “For instance, if the police come to us and say, ‘Hey we want to expand this program,’ we didn’t want to block them out because neighborhood safety is always a bigger issue in low income areas.”
While the police would be part of the neighborhood safety project, Hansen said the project could also include investments in neighborhood safety outside of the police department. However, she said, the city would still likely go forward under the advisement of public safety officials.
“[There] could very likely be neighborhood programs that our police department would support enthusiastically,” she said.
Project Five: ADA Sidewalk Improvements
This project sets aside $50,000 for sidewalk improvements. Improvements could include increasing access for individuals with mobility issues by adding Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps, according to the plan.
At the April 27 council meeting, Hansen said these improvements will be made citywide, not just in the Buford Highway corridor. She said the city does not yet know exactly where these improvements will take place.
Project Six: Neighborhood Facility Improvements
This project sets aside $59,802 for neighborhood development and to improve neighborhood facilities along the Buford Highway corridor. According to the plan, these facilities could include things such as parks or recreation centers. About 100 low- and moderate-income residents are expected to be helped by this project.
Hansen said the city suspects there could be lead paint, mold or asbestos in some of the facilities the city inherited from DeKalb County. She said she did not yet know which facilities would receive improvements.
Project Seven: Residential Rehabilitation
This project sets aside $115,000 to support renovations and improvements for existing housing units. This is a citywide project that could also help residents outside of the Buford Highway corridor, according to the plan.
“If you, because of your income, are struggling to maintain your home, and you could potentially lose it or have to move away, or be in an unhealthy situation, we are allowed to use these funds to go in and make an improvement,” Hansen said.
This project’s programs may include emergency repairs, accessibility improvements, and other rehabilitation efforts, according to the plan. The project is expected to assist up to 10 households.
Project Eight: Targeted Code Enforcement
This project sets aside $10,000 to allow for Brookhaven’s Code Enforcement to be more focused along the Buford Highway Corridor. According to the plan, this project will allow for more targeted building and property code enforcement activities to improve the safety of neighborhoods in the area.
Hansen said during the public outreach process of the consolidated plan, residents along Buford Highway brought up the low quality of rental housing and health and safety issues in their rental units.
“This tells us that renters who are concentrated on Buford Highway are potentially living in housing that we need to … look more closely at and work with the landlords, and support their efforts to make improvements if necessary,” Hansen said.
Code enforcement in Brookhaven was a bit of a controversial topic in 2019. At the Reserve at Brookhaven apartments on Buford Highway, the then owner of the complex, Chip Fife, said the city’s code enforcement was being very strict regarding tenants keeping items such as bicycles on their patios. Fife said the decision to fine residents for these patio violations was a direct result of the city’s beautification push and construction on the Peachtree Creek Greenway in the area. A city spokesperson at the time said the city was not responsible for the fines.
Despite that controversy, Parker said Los Vecinos de Buford Highway would be invested in seeing better code enforcement for tenants along the corridor.
“When people think of organizations like ours, which is focused on teaching tenants their rights and teaching tenants how to advocate for themselves, you might think that we would think of code enforcement as one of our enemies,” she said. “But we definitely don’t see it that way.
Parker said code enforcement could help tenants along Buford Highway by getting maintenance issues taken care of in a timely manner and enforcing consequences when landlords are doing something wrong.
“I think one of the key things that we all have to remember is that code enforcement can’t do anything unless they’re called by a tenant, and come into the home and see what the problem is,” Parker said. “They might hear from advocacy groups like us, or from community organizations or churches that something is going on in the apartments, but until a tenant makes a complaint directly to them, their hands are kind of tied.”
Parker said giving tenants the opportunity to make complaints anonymously to code enforcement or giving them more language options when doing so could really help.
“When it’s easy to contact code enforcement and there’s low liability and risk on the tenant, then code enforcement can be an asset,” she said.
Project Nine: Family Stability Services
This project sets aside $34,185 to help improve access to childcare for moderate- and low-income families, according to the plan.
During the April 27 council meeting, Hansen said childcare services was the number one concern for many of the residents who responded to public input.