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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BEFORE AND AFTER: When he bought the Lexington Avenue property, Poventud’s yard was covered in kudzu. Hundreds of dollars and man hours later, the overgrowth is gone. - ANGEL POVENTUD
  • Angel Poventud
  • BEFORE AND AFTER: When he bought the Lexington Avenue property, Poventud’s yard was covered in kudzu. Hundreds of dollars and man hours later, the overgrowth is gone.

Another challenge: Since 1994, Adair Park has been a historic district. This ensures that the housing stock conforms to certain architectural standards, preserving the look and feel of what's really a charming neighborhood. However, the standards can be restrictive, expensive, and prevent people from making their homes more energy efficient. Derrick Duckworth, an Adair Park resident and real estate agent whose Beltline Team focuses on selling properties near the project — and who sold Poventud his home — says, "It's been a thought that it prevents people from buying a property. They might choose to go to a different neighborhood."

Poventud, a champion of historic preservation, wasn't deterred by the designation. But he might have been had he known how much it was going to cost to buy and install windows that conform to historic standards, which are overseen by the city's Urban Design Commission. "Apparently," Poventud says, "we have one of the most restrictive window codes in the city. If I replaced all 22 windows with the windows required, I would end up spending more than I paid for the house on windows alone." Thus far, he's had trouble communicating this to the UDC. He says they're currently engaged in a "words war" about "repairing" versus "replacing" the windows — he's trying to explain that there's nothing to repair, so they have to be replaced.

Of Poventud's dilemma, Duckworth says, "There has to be a rhyme to the reason. Common sense needs to come into play. Say it's a $50,000 house and if you do great work it can be a $100,000 house — but you have to put $150,000 into it? It's ridiculous." He suggests the neighborhood and its residents should have more say in the matter. "I can say from my experience, from my time in the neighborhood, when you talk about historic guidelines, dealing with the policy, it seems like there would be some kind of advisory board. So, Angel bought this house, let's rubberstamp him getting [windows that are] comparable — not million-dollar windows."

Essentially, it would mean dealing with homebuyers based on their unique circumstances. Councilman Bond thinks a similar strategy could be employed when dealing with code compliance cases as well as broader real estate issues, like the extension of bank loans. "These things are going to have to be [dealt with on] a case-by-case basis," he says. "You don't know who you're dealing with really — it could be someone like Angel or a remote investor from out of the state or out of the city. There ought to be a concerted effort to incentivize people to do what Angel is doing. To become homeowners. There ought to be a layering on every level — state, city, and national — so folks can invest in these homes and build these neighborhoods."

In order to purchase the property in Adair Park, Poventud took out a loan against his 401(k). That was $14,000. The blueprints he had drawn up by an architect — so he could hire a general contractor and get a renovations estimate to submit to the bank — cost him $6,000. He spent $500 to rent a dumpster during the interior demolition phase. And he estimates he's spent roughly another $3,000 on miscellanea: ladders, yard debris bags, garbage bags, and wheelbarrows.

The fate of his investment — the money, the time, the aggravation — currently rests in the hands of an appraiser from the bank, who'll decide if the home could ever be worth the $146,000 it's going to cost to fix it up. A few weeks ago, the depressing reality finally got to a notoriously cheerful Poventud, and he wept. "The reason I broke down in tears is I realized that after six months of this, I could potentially have to sell this property for a loss. The $6,000 I spent for the architect, the $14,000 I paid for the lot, the five or six months of amazingly hard work that I, my friends, and the neighborhood did — I could lose all of that."

Banks have been particularly gun-shy about loans associated with homes in the 30310 ZIP code. "I get it. They fucked up five years ago," Poventud says. "They're trying not to do it again, but the pendulum has swung so hard to the other side that they're making it impossible for people." Even if the appraiser does decide that once it's been renovated, the home could be sold for $146,000, there's also the issue of the state of the entire market — whether it's "declining" or "severely declining." That determination will affect the percentage he'll have to put down on the loan. If the appraiser says it's "severely declining," it could require Poventud to put down as much as 25 percent of the $146,000 — and he simply might not be able to afford it.

"I don't know how anyone expects us to repopulate this city if every person is going to have to go through what I am going through right now," Poventud says, framed in the doorway of a house that may or may not eventually be his home. "That's really the last line of the story: At this point, we are never going to repopulate this city."

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