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What the economy has done to one South DeKalb neighborhood

May 19, 2010

Driving through Belvedere Park recently gave me a true perspective on the real estate crisis that has steamrolled South DeKalb. I drove down streets that had two or three houses in a row boarded up and overgrown with weeds. On streets that routinely fill up with homeowners or renters, were desolate tracts of land and homes that had been abandoned by so many. as I ducked in and out of streets, empty homes became the norm. Even Knollwood Elementary school looked somehwat abandoned. When I drive around my own neighborhood, I complain because people do not cut their grass, or maintain their homes. They treat their homes as an afterthought to their cars or clothing. But driving through Belvedere I realized that things could be much worse. It was sad to ride through streets that I was familiar with and watch them die right before my eyes. I used to have friends and family that lived in the area, but they have long fled for the distant suburbs south and east of the city. I know when the economy rebounds, areas like Belvedere will probably never recover or at best stay where they are today while more exclusive areas will rebound and prosper. Areas like Belvedere will become the dumping ground for renters and those who make it a point to destroy neighborhoods. The little brick homes will fall into a state of disrepair and it will take years before someone decides that the area is worth saving. Before the economic downturn, there were signs that Belvedere might be experiencing a rebirth. The Wal-Mart basically revided the commercial area at Columbia and Memorial drives. Small residential developments were popping up. On White Oak, there were several custom homes built and sold. Some houses were being renovated and existing owners were trying to improve their homes appearance. It was not unusual to see a home on the market from about 125,000 dollars. But the area was not taking off like East Lake or Kirkwood. Those two areas had risen above the ashes far enough where they were not pulled down by the economic collapse. There were subtle changes in the housing landscape in Belvedere and you could see the tide of redevelopment headed its way. Then came the downturn. Neighborhoods like Belvedere, which were buoyed by record real estate prices, saw the bottom fall out. I saw a house where a contractors’ dumpster had been sitting there for so long, weeds had started to creep up the sides. No one was putting money into the area. After all, a house that may have fetched 80 to 100 thousand in 2006 or 2007 would barely get 45000 dollars today. The sad part about Belvedere is that they are not alone. With foreclosures, job losses, and under-employment, way too many South DeKalb neighborhoods have taken a step or two back, and we know how hard it will be just to recover those two steps and get back to a break-even level.

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