A ceremonial groundbreaking was held July 6 for Front Porch, an affordable housing and mixed-used project on Auburn Avenue. Those on hand included Mayor Andre Dickens, center, with Historic District Development Corporation President and CEO Cheneé Joseph, to his left. In the background is the historic Old Wheat Baptist Church. (Dyana Bagby)

Atlanta’s historic Auburn Avenue will see its first new construction in over a decade with a development that includes affordable housing, retail space for local entrepreneurs, an arts and culture venue, and an urban community garden. 

The nonprofit Historic District Development Corporation is building the 100,000 square-foot project named Front Porch. The project is in the Sweet Auburn Historic District on the same street where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born. Sweet Auburn is also remembered as the community where Black businesses and entertainment venues thrived during the Jim Crow era, but has experienced disinvestment and neglect for decades.  

Mayor Andre Dickens said at a July 6 groundbreaking the new development was a milestone for an area where much of the city’s history is rooted. 

“This is the first project of this magnitude in the last 15 years that we’re about to break ground, and it should be transformative,” Dickens said. “I’m proud of the work being done here and I’m happy to be a part of revitalizing a very vital neighborhood.”

An illustration of the new Front Porch mixed-use development on Auburn Avenue. The project is expected to be completed next year. (HDDC)

The roughly $30 million Front Porch project includes construction of new buildings on a vacant lot and renovating several existing retail spaces.

Front Porch will include 45 apartments rented at or below 80% of the area median income, which is $54,000 for a single person. There will also be 16 for-sale condominiums, with four sold at 120% AMI. HDDC is trying to raise $700,000 by the end of the year so it can sell more affordable condos at 80% AMI. The apartments and condos will be permanently affordable, according to HDDC.

HDDC is also renovating existing retail units into affordable pop-up spaces for local entrepreneurs and creating an artist co-working space. A rooftop space with a community garden for tenants and the neighborhood is also part of the project. 

Invest Atlanta, the city’s development authority, approved $3 million in Eastside Tax Allocation District grant funding to help subsidize the affordable housing as well as affordable commercial spaces. 

Construction fencing around the site of the new Front Porch mixed-use development on Auburn Avenue. (Dyana Bagby)

Khaliff Davis of the national Reinvestment Fund, a nonprofit lender and community development financial institution, said his organization was proud to be the primary financial backer of the project. He praised Front Porch as a “holistic community-centered development that will serve as a beacon for the historic district for years to come.”

HDDC plans to further renovate the historic Haugabrooks Funeral Home into an arts center and gallery as part of the Front Porch development. (Dyana Bagby)

But HDDC faced many hardships in gaining financial backing, he said. “I personally witnessed the HDDC team navigate the many systemic and institutional practices that have historically limited the growth and sustainability of Black communities.”

Nathaniel Smith, founder and Chief Equity Officer for Partnership for Southern Equity, a community partner on the project, said the lack of philanthropic support for developments along Auburn Avenue is jarring.

“There is not one foundation in this city that provide philanthropic dollars to support this development,” he said. “Let that sit for a moment.

“We have got to change more than just the sticks and breaks that are required to develop projects like Front Porch,” Smith said. 

“We have to change the values that consistently reinforce this injustice. We have to disrupt that, but the only way that we can disrupt it is if we work together,” Smith said. “I see this development as an opportunity to create what I call a new renaissance for the Sweet Auburn corridor.”

Cheneé Joseph, president and CEO of HDDC, acknowledged the difficulties faced to make Front Porch a reality. She said her organization, founded more than 40 years ago by Coretta Scott King to protect the birth site of Martin Luther King Jr., has been overlooked by investors.

“But we continue to fight for who we are, how important this community is and how important that we are to the future,” she said. “Please do not forget that the reason we have a beloved community is because of Sweet Auburn. Let’s never forget where it all started.”

This story has been updated.

Dyana Bagby

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