Please, DeKalb Schools, don’t tear down more affordable apartments in our community.

A couple weeks ago, our Cross Keys community was excited to find out that we are moving closer to getting a long overdue new school building. However, my excitement was tempered by the fact that the new school building will most likely come at the expense of the homes of my friends and neighbors.

I’m going to try to explain why this process has been frustrating – for all of us:

  1. Site selection has not been transparent. After requesting explanations and documents from the planning department (and after getting nothing substantial), I filed an Open Records Request to the DeKalb County Schools legal department. I requested documents explaining rationale (there were none provided); I requested a copy of the explanations that were made to the board (there were none); and I requested minutes and emails that discussed the site selection (there were none).
  2. No explanation has been given to demonstrate that the Shallowford Gardens apartment complex was the best choice for the new elementary school for our cluster. After meetings with the heads of the planning and operations department (and after receiving all available documents that were requested through the Open Records Request), I still remain unconvinced.
  3. The school district states that “the apartments are going to be torn down and converted to expensive condos or townhomes anyway,” so they might as well buy it and build a school. Simultaneously, the planning department for the county also states that the “loss of affordable housing is one of the biggest threats to the [student numbers] in the county.” I find the irony almost too much.

The school district has stated that it is “in discussions” to acquire a piece of property on Buford Highway. Dr. Green recently said that while it was troubling to him, as well, he would purchase an apartment complex and take away the homes of more than 100 families again if he had to. The Mayor of Brookhaven, John Ernst, has also stated that the school district is considering purchasing 1 to 3 apartment complexes to build the new Cross Keys High School.

Here is what I think: I am unconvinced that the district has generally done a good job with facility management or site selection; therefore, I question the decisions made about site selection in both the recent past (that resulted in the overcrowding and deterioration of the Cross Keys cluster schools and eventually in the displacement of more than 100 families) and the present (which has a very strong chance of displacing more families).

I am not categorically opposed to the demolition of apartments — but until we get an expert engineer analysis of the older properties, I do not believe that we should be tearing down apartments based off a visual assessment (i.e. “Eh, that building looks old; it’s not going to last”) or based off the false dichotomy of “it’s either a school or a $400,000+ townhome development.”

For example, there are many apartments that were built during the same era as those along Buford Highway, and as you can see from the pictures and from the location, these apartments are doing just fine and are providing affordable housing options for people in Decatur and Atlanta – right next to huge single-family homes, Emory University, and plenty of amenities.

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Each of the photos in the above slideshow are from the Druid Hills neighborhood. Many of these apartments were built in the late 1940s and 1950s, like many of the apartments along Buford Highway.

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Highland Hall, Briarcliff Rd
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Highland Hall, Briarcliff Rd

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Scott Court at the Woodlands, Scott Blvd
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The Park at Westchester, Scott Boulevard
If, after a thorough external inspection and analysis of the Buford Highway apartment complexes (including cost-benefit analyses of what it would take to renovate certain properties), the school district wants to purchase and redevelop a property that in no way can be salvaged and only has a few years left anyway, then you would not find me as upset.

But until a more professional, well-documented, and transparent site selection process is incorporated as a best practice, I will stand alongside my neighbors and friends and say, “Please don’t take away our homes.”