The high price of hope 

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

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GOOD COUNCIL: Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond helped deflect pressure from code compliance. - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • GOOD COUNCIL: Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond helped deflect pressure from code compliance.

Until recently, most of what little free time he had was spent at the Adair Park house, clearing the backyard of kudzu, boarding up windows, and dismantling the house to a point where it could be put back together. Poventud was essentially recruited into the neighborhood. He'd previously been looking at homes in Old Fourth Ward, but was priced out when Fourth Ward Park opened up last year. "It didn't matter what neighborhood I ended up in," he says, "as long as it meant being next to this project that I had been volunteering [with] for seven years." The condition of the house itself was, perhaps, a bit of an afterthought.

The first general contractor he worked with — a guy a family member met at Home Depot who had more than a couple Better Business Bureau complaints associated with his name — estimated the renovations would cost somewhere between $70,000 and $120,000. Turns out, that estimate was a little optimistic; his current contractor recently quoted him a more realistic $146,000. Firing the contractor and hiring a new one set him back about a month, but that frustration was secondary to what he was going through with code enforcement at the time.

In December, Poventud received a call from Atlanta Code Compliance alerting him to several of the property's pretty obvious deficiencies, ones that existed well before he bought the place. They said the paint was peeling when, really, the exterior paint is pretty much non-existent. They said the roof needed to be repaired — the roof that was draped with an enormous tarp to cover the holes. He found the call almost funny. "I said to them, 'Have you been to my house? Have you seen this place?" Poventud recalls. According to Poventud, the officer said she hadn't, but the violations had been on file for some time, and she would send a notice.

About a month later, the notice arrived. To replace siding, scrape and paint the whole house, and replace the roof, Poventud was given two weeks.

He and his friends had made a valiant effort to clean up a property that had been derelict for a long time, but he simply couldn't make any major repairs until he received a bank loan. And banks have been wary about issuing loans associated with residences in the financially hard-hit 30310 ZIP code.

click to enlarge JOEFF DAVIS

For the next several weeks, Poventud says he called code compliance three to five times a day to explain his circumstances and get an extension. According to the notice, he could have been fined as much as $1,000 per violation for noncompliance, money he simply didn't have. Eventually, he was granted an extension — an additional 10 days.

It took the intervention of at-large councilman Michael Julian Bond to get code compliance off Poventud's back. Neighbors sent letters to several city officials to request clemency on Poventud's behalf, and Bond was one of only a couple who responded. "I was glad to help him out," Bond says. "He's trying to make an investment there. How does that neighborhood ever rebound if there aren't policies in place that allow them to grow?"

It's a good question. Poventud also wonders why a city councilman's involvement was necessary to get code compliance to do something as simple as listen to his concerns and weigh them against the benefit his efforts could bring about. He worries about what becomes of homebuyers who aren't as well connected as he is. "Our government is a disaster," he says. "I volunteer for the city, but I've actually never dealt with our city government. If I am going to go through this, what about the poor SOB who doesn't even know where City Hall is, and doesn't have a Facebook core who know to call Bond's office for help?"

Code compliance's renewed interest in taking violators to task presents something of a catch-22 for residents of Adair Park. The code compliance department was poorly run and almost nonresponsive for years. Burned-out shells of houses and dilapidated properties all over Atlanta — but particularly in Southwest Atlanta — were allowed to deteriorate, and their derelict owners were confronted with often laissez-faire enforcement when they were confronted at all. Code compliance was recently whipped into shape by Lt. C.J. Davis, a former APD Internal Affairs officer, and complaints and violations that hadn't been acted upon for years are suddenly being dealt with. But the department's sudden zeal, in an area like Adair Park, can be as much a curse as it is a blessing. Adair Park Today president Jay Melton says, "It's, like, holy crap, they're doing things, but now they're just trying to clear a backlog, moving forward on complaints from the past, and not listening to residents that are trying to communicate with them. So, it's a mixed bag." (Davis did not respond to CL's calls for comment.)

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