Making a Difference

by Mel Selcho

Growing Pains

Decatur mobilizes residents to work together for affordable housing options

Rich in community festivals and friendly patio chats, Decatur has built a reputation of having the charm of a small town with the mindset of an urban city. With a high growth rate, Decatur finds itself facing challenges other growing cities have – a lack of affordable housing options.

The city of Decatur tackled the issue head on by hosting a full day Housing Summit in November. More than 100 people attended the event where city officials, urban planning experts, housing developers and residents came together to identify the issue and discuss strategies and solutions for moving forward.

According to the city’s summary of the event, Decatur’s home values have increased 85% since 2010. In addition, affordability is being lost in the demolition of older apartment buildings. “The end result is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Decatur to keep its inclusive, equitable and diverse character,” the report concludes.

Several objectives were defined, and one of the strategies determined to move forward progress is the creation of a citizen’s task force. The Decatur City Commission announced the creation of the Affordable Housing Task Force and invited residents interested to contact the City Manager. The task force is expected to be in place by mid April.

One group who understands the need to find solutions is the Coalition for a Diverse Decatur. Founded by Mark Reeve in 2017, the organization is an extension of his deep-seated passion for activism and the communal, peace-training home he created with his wife, Leslie Withers. The coalition unifies different community groups under one main goal: Creating and preserving affordable housing options.

David Lewicki, a representative of the coalition, points out that affordable housing can seem complicated and there is no “one policy that makes it all better.”

One of the goals is to “help people understand it better so they can be smart, effective advocates,” he said. The coalition hosts open meetings to keep the community engaged on the second Tuesday of each month at North Decatur Presbyterian Church from six to eight p.m.

For Lewicki, affordable housing creates and maintains a diverse community, which is ultimately more valuable to the whole community.

“I grew up in economically and racially segregated communities, and I don’t think those are healthy places for kids to grow up,” he said. “I want to see a Decatur that is economically and racially diverse.”

For more information on the Affordable Housing Task Force, contact Decatur City Manager, Andrea Arnold, andrea.arnold@decatur.com.

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