In the shadow of the Great Depression, FDR’s Public Works Administration embarked on what was then seen as a bold social experiment: the construction of the first federally-funded public housing project – Techwood Homes in Atlanta. Part of a “slum clearance” effort, Techwood initially housed 600 white families (black Atlantans were provided public housing a few miles away).
Techwood’s history mirrors that of many inner-city public housing complexes: segregation (of African Americans by the 1970s), isolation, disrepair, and neglect. By 1993 one-third of the 1,195 units were vacant and 1,000 “emergency” work orders were waiting for action.
In 1994, McCormack Baron Salazar joined with the Atlanta Housing Authority, local developer The Integral Group, residents and the business community to bring hope back to this neighborhood. This partnership invented another first in public housing history: the first market-rate development with a public housing “set-aside” component. Combining federal and private financing and with the support of an entrepreneurial housing authority and residents, the community, renamed Centennial Place, became the model for urban community development.
Over 900 families live in new garden apartments and townhomes. Some families make a few thousand dollars a year and some make more than $150,000. But you cannot tell which by looking at their homes. They live side by side in an attractive neighborhood of tree-lined streets. Two swimming pools, a fitness center and a new YMCA provide recreational opportunities. New commercial development is underway – being built with private investment. The neighborhood is ethnically and economically diverse.
The pride of the neighborhood is Centennial Place Elementary school. Driven by the belief that public education must succeed if new urban communities are to succeed, McCormack Baron Salazar and its partners connected with Georgia Tech and Coca-Cola to spur the development of a new K-5 school for the neighborhood – one that would hold all children to equally high expectations. Today, Centennial Place Elementary is nationally recognized for its student achievement. More importantly, children in the public housing units are performing (and exceeding standards) at the same level as the children of Georgia Tech professors.