In a pair of dueling press conferences Monday morning, activists, public officials, and mayoral candidates clashed over the best recourse for the Peoplestown residents whose lives have been upended by years of flooding and a remediation effort that threatens to force them out of their homes.
In 2014, then Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration proposed dedicating tens of millions of dollars to developing a retention pond where households were feeling the brunt of severe flooding. The city purchased more than 20 properties from people living in or near the floodplain.
Some homeowners refused to leave, however, so city officials attempted to leverage eminent domain to secure the properties. The legal saga over whether those folks can stay in their homes has now become a flashpoint in an already heated mayoral race.
On Monday, alongside Atlanta City Councilmembers Carla Smith and Michael Julian Bond at his Home Park campaign headquarters, Reed announced legislation that would use $1.75 million in municipal funds to buy the homes of three of the holdout families.
That money, Reed said, “could comfortably pay every single family more than half a million dollars per home, when no home has been appraised at more than $375,000.” He added, “This is the Atlanta way.”
But about three miles south, on the Atlanta City Hall stoop, activists—including Peoplestown residents fighting what they see as an effort to displace them—said the proposed legislation is a slap in the face and a political stunt, and that these homeowners have every right to stay planted.
Doubling as a call to action and an anti–Kasim Reed rally—mayoral contenders City Council President Felicia Moore and Councilmember Andre Dickens both made appearances—the event spotlighted claims that city officials had improperly exercised eminent domain to try to remove Peoplestown homeowners like Bertha Darden and Tanya Washington.
“Kimberly Scott, a former City of Atlanta engineer and project manager repeatedly informed the city that they only had engineering data to support taking two to four homes before the first of 20-plus homes was demolished and 20-plus families displaced,” a GoFundMe campaign organized by Darden and Washington asserts. “Despite clear evidence that the city did not need to take this block of homes, it remains committed to its unlawful use of eminent domain.”
Washington said she learned last week that the city had filed an eviction against her. “It feels like crap,” she told Atlanta Civic Circle. “It feels scary. I have a five-year-old, a family, a husband, and we are getting ready for the holidays.”
Bond said during the press conference at the Team Reed HQ that the $1.75 million proposal will come in the form of a resolution, which will outline the city’s policy goals for the effort to buy the Peoplestown homes, as well as a binding ordinance that would authorize the use of city cash.
During Monday’s Atlanta City Council meeting, city leaders sent the resolution down the standard two-week committee path, despite Bond and Smith’s hope that it would garner immediate approval. It could be a few weeks before the ordinance is introduced.
Washington said Atlanta’s next mayor could determine whether she’s allowed to keep her home. “They could just withdraw the lawsuit, negotiate a settlement, and leave us alone,” she said. Or the legal battle could continue.