Here’s the challenge: Balancing an infusion of wealth with preservation of the Westside neighborhoods.

There’s an urgency on the Westside. A tipping point both for investors looking for opportunity before Microsoft Corp. opens is planned 90-acre campus, which could house upwards of 15,000 people, and for those looking to safeguard the area for its legacy residents.

Either way, the clock is ticking.

“The urgency I would say is within five years, if not sooner, before it gets too expensive,” said John Ahmann, president and CEO of the Westside Future Fund, an 8-year-old nonprofit launched by the Atlanta Committee for Progress focused on “creating and curating an ecosystem” that disrupts the cycle of poverty.

How much have prices increased on the Westside?

Home values spiked 200% to more than 300% in parts of the city that include its west and southwest sides between early 2013 and early 2021, according to Zillow Group Inc. data compiled by Dan Immergluck, professor of urban studies at Georgia State University. All zip code areas of the city saw at least a 35% increase.

For the Westside Future Fund, those home prices corresponded with a 1,900% jump in costs per parcel the fund purchases for affordable housing over the past decade. Another way to look at it: Prices have escalated from $5,000 for a typical lot to approximately $100,000.

When did the price escalation in the Westside start?

Numerous factors have led to the rising costs. They include the 2017 kickoff of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, last year’s opening of Westside Park, and the BeltLine’s continued development of the Southside and Westside trails, which have attracted even more investment. There’s also the runaway housing market from the past two years.

What’s the update on the Westside BeltLine?

Atlanta BeltLine Inc. recently opened a 1.2-mile section of the Westside Trail.It flows alongside Marietta Boulevard, connecting Law Street to Huff Road.

The final section of the Westside Trail will run 1.3 miles from Lena Street to Wheeler Street. By early next year, it’s expected to start construction, which could take about two years to complete.

How is Westside Future Fund helping the area remain affordable?

The nonprofit buys land and sells it to neighborhood residents who need financial assistance, mostly on English Avenue. It has purchased $20.4 million of vacant and blighted property since 2018. There remain 1,024 vacant and blighted land parcels on English Avenue. But the rising costs and infrastructure limitations on English Avenue make the work challenging.

What other organizations are helping Westside residents?

The City of Refuge, which helps individuals and families transition out of crisis, is hoping that a fresh $25 million will help boost its workforce effortsin part through a new 36,000 square foot Transformation Center. Meanwhile, the Arthur M. Blank Foundation hopes to have a bigger impact in the community by sharpening its strategy — specifically when it comes to affordable housing.

The foundation is awarding $2.4 million in new grants to several organizations to further this strategy, including the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Enterprise Community Partners and the Westside Future Fund, among others.

How does infrastructure on the Westside need to improve to prepare for more development?

The area needs a grocery store and stormwater updates, according to the Westside Future Fund. But it also needs to address pedestrian safety along one of its main corridors, Donald Lee Hollowell. A series of major projects, one of which includes the Microsoft campus, will add more activity along the road, which is already considered one of Atlanta’s most dangerous for pedestrians. Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to reduce the number of lanes in one section and add more crosswalks.

Are there any comparable growth stories in Atlanta?

It may not seem like it now, but Atlanta’s Ansley Park — now known as one of the wealthiest — was in a similar position as English Avenue in the ’70s and ’80s. Before Ansley Park was a garden suburb in the heart of the city, the more than century-old neighborhood experienced disinvestment. Ahmann at the Westside Future Fund thinks Ansley Park could be a mixed-income area today if an organization had locked in affordable apartments before the years of its sharp home value rise.

By and  –  Atlanta Business Chronicle