A new job has brought me to Atlanta, and I’m in the process of looking for a new home. In Atlanta, sprawling metropolis that it is, where you live largely determines what you do. It’s fun to be young and professional in a city, but it is only fun if you live in the right location. Hence, most young professionals want to be near the good stuff (restaurants, art, culture, recreation, transit).
I did my research so I had a few ideas about where I wanted to live. But finding a place I love, in a neighborhood I can be happy in is easier said than done. And I’m not the only one; I’ve found other home searching folks who are as confused and discouraged as I am.
We checked all the usual suspects. The neighborhoods with established reputations that promised a lively artsy, cultural and fun atmosphere and constant happenings. Let’s call these neighborhoods the “old goodies”.
What a lot of people don’t know is that hip, cool and trendy don’t come cheap, at least not anymore. In the Old Goodies, I found rent on one bedroom duplexes in the upper $800’s and rent for two bedroom houses and townhouses starting in the $1200’s, and my dream home was $1785 a month.
All WAY out of my league.
I sat in my car trying to figure out how, why and when the price of rental housing in the Old Goodie neighborhoods got so high. Then I noticed all the older couples, and the people walking their strollers, and the mommy cars. And that’s when it hit me. This is what gentrification looks like. She drives a Volvo.
I wasn’t going to be able to live in an Old Goodie neighborhood. Most of the units were way out of my price range, and the ones that WERE in m price range were unrenovated, and in some cases uninhabitable. I was sad, but I realized that I had bought into the REPUTATIONS of the Old Goodie neighborhoods. I wanted to live in what I THOUGHT those neighborhoods were; where the cool, hippy, artsy (mostly single, young, and poor)people lived. Where the rent was cheap, and the bars are open late. Where there is always something fun and exciting happening. Those places still exist, just not where I was looking. Mostly because the people who currently live in the Old Goodie neighborhoods aren’t the people who made them cool in the first place. Those people are long gone.
The neighborhoods have changed in other ways as well. For starters, back when the Old Goodie neighborhoods were home to artsy, hippy, creatives; the housing stock wasn’t great, the neighborhoods, weren’t entirely safe, and all those restaurants and bars were just getting started or didn’t even exist. It has taken years of establishment, and turnover, and investment to make the Old Goodie neighborhoods desirable.
The conundrum with gentrification is that neighborhoods do improve; housing quality, investment, safety. We should celebrate that. Unfortunately, those good things usually lead to changes in the composition and the character of the neighborhood. They become different places. The old people (usually lower income) leave, and new people (with money) come it.
So where do people go when they are pushed out of their old neighborhoods? They move where the rents are cheap.
There are new up and coming neighborhoods that are becoming the NEW Goodies. And it’s really exciting to see how these neighborhoods are changing. A dozen new restaurants have opened, several new art galleries have sprung up, lots have been redeveloped, homes and other buildings are being renovated. The neighbors are out and about. The neighborhoods seem to be coming alive.
I hope these neighborhoods can avoid the traps that the Old Goodies fell into. “Cheap rent” doesn’t coincide with “new and trendy” for long. The new blood has made these new neighborhoods popular, but popularity may come with a price.