Preserving a piece of history in Atlanta

May 24, 2023
by Mike Orum, Executive Director at Rebuilding Together Atlanta

Ms. Harper was giddy with excitement when she heard about the possibility of receiving free home repairs. “It would mean the world to me,” she said. “My house is the most important thing I have.”

Ms. Harper, a 78-year-old neighbor, has lived in her Atlanta home since she was four years old. She recalls having seen the neighborhood change dramatically over the years. Despite the many changes, one thing remains the same—it’s always felt like home.

At Rebuilding Together Atlanta, we’re passionate about helping empower homeowners to stay in their homes, preserving generational wealth and allowing individuals, like Ms. Harper, to safely age in place.

The neighborhood where Ms. Harper lives is called the Old 4th Ward and it’s one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta. In fact, it was the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Many of the original homes in the neighborhood are nearly 100 years old or older.

While Ms. Harper lives alone, she is beloved by her neighbors. They, along with her niece who lives across the street, help Ms. Harper with small tasks around the house, like taking out the trash. While fiercely independent, Ms. Harper struggles with some health challenges that prevent her from maintaining her home and navigating it safely. She has asthma that significantly affects her breathing and osteoarthritis in both knees and lower back that affects her mobility.

Together, with our team of volunteers, we were able to build a ramp and handrails so Ms. Harper can safely enter and exit her home. We also repaired and painted her front porch and steps and cleaned and landscaped her yard. Inside, we installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a fire extinguisher, removed old carpeting and cleaned her hardwood floors.
The Atlanta Beltline, one of the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment plans in the country, is forcing many neighbors, just like Ms. Harper to leave their homes. Many of her long-time neighbors have been forced to move because they could not afford taxes or costly home repairs. On the afternoon we finished working on Ms. Harpers house, she told us about the weekly phone calls she receives from investors asking her to sell her home. But Ms. Harper is determined to stay in her home and neighborhood. “This is where I grew up,” she said. “This is where I learned everything about life…and I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d be happy or comfortable other than in my home.”