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  • Writer's pictureJewel Wicker

A senior sees Bankhead progressing—and leaving folks behind

Vanessa Alexander stays rooted in her community with a prayer line, Bible studies, and neighborhood cookouts

 
Illustration by Minh Huynh
Over the past several months, our community listening team has spoken with more than 220 people from across the metro to learn more about their personal cost of living challenges. This series, written by Jewel Wicker, looks through the lens of their lived experiences in order to better understand how systemic issues—like healthcare access, housing costs, and student loan debt—impact Atlantans every day. Here, meet Vanessa, from Bankhead. ↓

Vanessa Alexander thinks fondly about the amenities that used to exist in Bankhead. A resident who’s lived in the area on and off for about five decades, she can recall the old drive-in movie theater that was in the neighborhood until the early 1980s. There was a Kmart, too. Alexander has witnessed a lot of change but can’t help but be attached to the place she’s long called home.


“When they started talking about the BeltLine, things started changing and people started giving up their houses for whatever they could get for it,” she says. “I guess they moved to better places—but you see a lot of [former residents] trying to get back into the area now.” A Canopy Atlanta story on gentrification in Bankhead highlighted how difficult it’s been for former residents to return, featuring a local whose family home fell into foreclosure and sold for $29,900 in 2008. The home sold again for $49,000 in 2018, only to list at $339,000 three years later.

“When they started talking about the BeltLine, things started changing and people started giving up their houses for whatever they could get for it.”

Alexander left Bankhead more than a decade ago by necessity, following the demolition of the Overlook Atlanta apartment complex, where she lived with her late mother and grandmother. But five years ago she returned to the area because it had some of the most affordable housing in the city for seniors. She’s retired: In 2011, she left a job working in shipping and receiving at a local condominium due to worsening arthritis. Or, as she calls it, Arthur: “I didn’t come out [of the workforce] because I wanted to,” she says. “I came out because of Arthur.”

Alexander left Bankhead more than a decade ago by necessity, following the demolition of the Overlook Atlanta apartment complex, where she lived with her late mother and grandmother. But five years ago she returned to the area because it had some of the most affordable housing in the city for seniors.

Alexander currently lives in the Johnnie B Moore Towers on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. The senior facility, which spans two three-story buildings, features 540-square-foot, one-bedroom units that cost residents less than half of their incomes for rent and utilities. Alexander says she currently pays less than $300 per month. (Income limits are set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.) Although she’s happy with the pricing, Alexander wishes there were more amenities available to the residents, like exercise and computer rooms.


Alexander says she also wishes there were more affordable housing options in the neighborhood in general. “Once they get everything settled on Bankhead, it’s going to be too high for the poor person to stay,” she adds.

“Once they get everything settled on Bankhead, it’s going to be too high for the poor person to stay.”

These days, a lot of Alexander’s social activities center around her religion. She begins each weekday, from 6:30 until 7:15 a.m, by volunteering for the prayer line for Greater Springfield Baptist Church. On Mondays, she attends an hour-long Bible study with other Johnnie B Moore residents. Recently, in an effort to socialize with some of her neighbors, she helped coordinate a cookout for residents. Her son-in-law cooked chicken for the event, and others provided hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta salad, banana pudding, chocolate cake, chips, and baked beans. The event was so well received that she’s hoping to help organize a dinner around Christmas.


A regular at Center Hill Neighborhood Association meetings, Alexander isn’t shy about her opinions of what could improve in the neighborhood. When we speak, she refers to the closest grocery store as “rinky-dink,” and says she wishes there were more options nearby. She also knows exactly what she’d ask Mayor Andre Dickens if she ever had the chance to talk to him: “Why can’t we live in some of these luxury apartments without $3,500 rent?”

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