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The high price of hope 

Angel Poventud is rebuilding a house in Southwest Atlanta. Why is everyone making that so insanely difficult?

Last October, when Angel Poventud purchased a home on Lexington Avenue in Southwest Atlanta, he didn't invest in a property so much as he invested in a vision. Eventually, the wide dirt path that forms a trench abutting his deep, formerly kudzu-covered backyard will be a paved portion of the Atlanta Beltline, a project he's long championed. Just beyond the Beltline corridor, a vast expanse of grassy land is slated to become a multi-acre organic urban farm. And, someday, the 1,200-square-foot shell of a structure that stands on his property will be a two-bedroom, one-bathroom historic bungalow with a wide front porch and a view of Adair Park.

That's the plan, anyway.

At this point, it's really less a house and more the possibility of a house. It was vacant for years before Poventud bought it, and the structure nearly had to be taken down to the studs before it would again be habitable. There are no windows or walls. A lot of the wood flooring is intact, but gaping holes throughout the house give way to beams and the dirt crawlspace. Slabs of siding are missing, and half the roof is covered with a blue tarp to keep the rain out. But the bones of the house, built in the '20s, are solid. Walking (carefully) though the structure on a recent morning — $6,000 blueprints in hand — Poventud paints a nice picture of what it could look like when it's completed. But his optimism is occasionally overtaken by reality. Work on the house has stalled while the bank decides whether to extend a loan for construction. Depending on its decision, there is a possibility that the work he has put in thus far was all for nothing. "Six months from now I could be doing cartwheels around here," Poventud says, standing in what could eventually be a living room. "Or six months from now I could still be waiting for the bank to give me permission on a loan and fighting with the code enforcement."

Everything about the purchase seemed right. The still-shaky state of the real estate market in Southwest Atlanta made it possible for Poventud to buy a home on a large lot in a historic district, directly on the Beltline, for the bargain price of $14,000 — meaning he could theoretically own a home for less than he's currently paying for his Midtown apartment each month. As a bonus, Poventud was doing something good for a neighborhood he'd always liked. Adair Park wasn't hit quite as hard by mortgage fraud and the subsequent foreclosure crisis as adjacent neighborhoods like Pittsburgh, but it contains a lot of vacant homes that need to be purchased, fixed up, and reoccupied if the neighborhood is going to rebound. It was an investment in a vision and an investment in the future of Adair Park.

click to enlarge JOEFF DAVIS

But a few months after the sale went through — with the first stages of work in full swing — code compliance officials issued a notice for a number of violations, several of which had been on file since before Poventud even bought the home. Neighbors came to his defense, and city councilman Michael Julian Bond intervened on his behalf. The department is off his case for now, but Poventud assumes it's only a matter of time until they return. Currently, he's dealing with stringent Urban Development Corporation guidelines that would require him to spend as much on historically accurate windows for his modest home as he spent on the entire house. And there won't be money for windows of any kind if the bank decides loaning someone money to fix up a home in Southwest Atlanta presents too big a risk.

Were Poventud an investor — someone with the capital to buy and fix up the house quickly and without the help of a bank — none of these things would be an issue. Adair Park residents don't have anything against investors, per se, but owner-occupiers like Poventud are ideal. Jay Melton, president of the neighborhood association Adair Park Today, told CL, "Angel is exactly the person we want to move here. Someone who's going to come in and meet his neighbors and engage with them. Investors are great, but the bad ones just sit on the homes." But as Poventud's predicament demonstrates, it can be tough for individuals of regular means to take advantage of rock-bottom home prices on fixer-uppers. With the system operating as it is on several levels, well-intentioned people run the risk of being shut out of Southwest Atlanta when Southwest Atlanta needs them most.

Apart from his work on behalf of the Beltline, Poventud is probably best known as the guy you'll occasionally see rollerblading around town in a form-fitting, lime green, A-line dress. It's his "thing." By trade, he's a train conductor currently in training to become a freight train engineer. He's also an exceptionally pleasant human being. In 2009, when he was temporarily out of work on the railroad, Poventud was profiled in a CL piece that asked particularly happy Atlantans why, exactly, they were so happy. Poventud said, "My personal motto is, 'No one can pay you what your free time is worth.' When you find yourself with free time, try to embrace it and not be afraid of it."

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