Techwood turnaround 

Centennial Place takes the sting out of the low-income stigma

Techwood-Clark Howell Homes certainly had its fair share of crime, drugs and killing. But it's also a place packed with historical significance -- just not the kind that usually draws crowds of tourists. Techwood was the first federally funded public housing in the United States and represented one of the country's first attempts to eradicate slum conditions.

But times change -- and social agendas and ideas change with it. Just before the 1996 Olympics, the tenants of Techwood were relocated and the complex torn down.

Today this once predominantly black enclave has been transformed into Centennial Place, a residential complex that is host to a variety of races, ethnicities and income levels. The idea behind the development is to elevate lower income households on a social level by mixing them with middle-class families and individuals instead of lumping together all low-income residents.

Some housing was lost in the process. As Techwood, the community had close to 1,100 units, all for public housing tenants. Today, there are 900 units, with a third set aside for public housing tenants, who devote 30 percent of their income to rent. But the ones who do live in Centennial Place seem to have no complaints.

This novel approach to public housing has reshaped the way people in the area live. Now students from nearby Georgia Tech can walk in the area at night without worrying about being mugged. Nice cars line the streets, and residents walk their dogs at all hours.

"The people living here have a much better chance at a healthier lifestyle," says Egbert Perry, CEO of Integral Properties, one of the project's developers. "But it's still too early to announce that it's a success. We need time to assess what will happen."

The complex is a mix of garden apartments and townhomes. There's a new YMCA center, elementary school and police mini-precinct, along with a renovated community center. Unfortunately, the Kroger chain recently nixed plans for a new grocery store, much to the dismay of many residents. But Perry doesn't see this as a major impediment. Now that Techwood is no more, new development in the area will continue with or without Kroger.


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