In 1972, The Atlanta Voice Newspaper publisher, J. Lowell Ware, moved his offices into the Mechanicsville area. After 15 years of decline in the population and the closing of many community businesses, Mr. Ware vowed to rebuild the community. The Mechanicsville area, like many communities throughout America in the late 1970’s and `80’s, was nearly crippled as property owners fled the inner cities. Neighborhoods spiraled helplessly downward into a state of economic distress and physical blight.
Mechanicsville and Summerhill were, to a great degree destroyed - or at the very least diminished - under the guise of progress. There was the widening of the expressway and the building of the former Atlanta/Fulton County Stadium (Turner Field).
J. Lowell Ware boldly partnered with a charismatic community activist, Rosa M. Burney, to create a new entity dedicated and committed to restoring the luster and lifestyle that had typically characterized Mechanicsville and its neighboring Summerhill community. In 1989, they co-founded SUMMECH Community Land Trust with the vision of restoring what was once a very healthy and vibrant business and residential community. Mechanicsville is located immediately South of Downtown Atlanta and bound by Interstate I-20 to the North; Interstates I-75/85 to the East and the Southern Railroad to the West and South.
Unfortunately, in July of 1991, both founding members passed within a few months of one another. Janis L. Ware was appointed Executive Director of the organization. Under her leadership and direction, and utilizing her business acumen, a course was chartered to execute her father’s vision.
Then, in 1992, Fleet Finance made a contribution of more than $1.5M to the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium neighborhoods in an effort to offset an injustice of predatory lending practices that were imposed on many residents and citizens in the City of Atlanta, particularly senior citizens. With these funds, an initiative was created to renovate senior owner-occupied homes. Under this initiative, SUMMECH renovated thirty-four (34) homes and laid the foundation for a successful revitalization of the Mechanicsville community.
Efforts to acquire vacant lots and abandoned housing units in Mechanicsville were more successful than the Board of Directors initially anticipated. However, land acquisition proved to be a time consuming task. Trying to locate the heirs of property owners, who long ago moved away from the area, was a tedious process. Some owners agreed to donate the land for a tax write-off. This land would later be used to complete many of the developments within the Mechanicsville community.
SUMMECH, partnering with the Mechanicsville Civic Association (MCA), and both working together with the City of Atlanta, commissioned the Mechanicsville Community Redevelopment Plan. Shortly after the completion of the Redevelopment Plan, SUMMECH applied for and was awarded $5.65 million dollars in EDI/Section108 Funding to implement components included in the redevelopment plan for Mechanicsville.
SUMMECH furthered its goal with the application to, and approval by the City of Atlanta that a section of Mechanicsville be designated as an Enterprise Zone. And, in 1994, Mechanicsville became one of thirteen Atlanta area neighborhoods designated as the Empowerment Zone.
At one point, there were over 350 vacant lots and abandoned houses in a state of total disrepair. Mechanicsville became a forgotten community ravaged by crime, drugs and disinvestment whose sole notoriety was being a parking lot for The Atlanta Braves fans. Then, Atlanta was awarded the Centennial Olympics. This announcement immediately placed the Stadium neighborhoods in the lime light and direct path of the anticipated millions of visitors expected to visit the City. It was important that the stadium neighborhoods, which were each respectively the gateway into the Olympic Games, have a welcoming, clean and inviting presence. Many of the vacant buildings and structures were demolished; and the streets and sidewalks, reflecting the despair and neglect of the neighborhoods, received much needed repairs and enhancements significantly improving the communities’ lighting and landscaping.
SUMMECH partnered with MAOGA, ANDP, the City of Atlanta, Habitat for Humanity and several businesses to develop housing located on Pryor Street, known as the “Street of Dreams.” This project was the first new housing development built in Mechanicsville in over 30 years. Continuing the momentum, efforts were focused on several scattered site apartment buildings that comprised 54 units and are now known as Rosa Burney Manor (RBM). Using Low Income Tax Credits, the units were acquired and renovated. In an agreement with the oldest tenants in those units, SUMMECH agreed to ‘grandfather their rental payments” affording them the opportunity to continue to reside in the units and in the community they so dearly loved.
In 1995, SUMMECH’s name was changed to SUMMECH Community Development Corporation, Inc. in an effort to reflect its holistic approach to community revitalization initiatives. Under Janis Ware’s stewardship, SUMMECH has engineered such a fascinating face-lift that the reaction to Mechanicsville’s comeback is both a public and private mix of disbelief and amazement.
Efforts were now underway to obtain financing for townhouse units to attract new residents to the neighborhood. Upon obtaining financing, 69 townhouses were built and sold to first-time home buyers with prices ranging from $95,000 to $195,000. In 1999, SUMMECH began building Ware Estates townhouses, and sold the last unit in 2002. SUMMECH had emerged as an aggressive engine for change, and people began to take notice.
Following decades of sustainable effort and hard work, Mechanicsville’s perilous plight was beginning to see an about face. Property values appreciated demonstrably, and surprisingly - to some - stability was once again taking a foothold.
For-profit developers began seeing Mechanicsville as a neighborhood with a potential for growth. The developers began to acquire land to build houses in the neighborhood, primarily as a result of the transformation made to the area by the efforts of SUMMECH CDC.
In 2005, SUMMECH became one of the Founding Partners of the Metro Atlanta Community Development Corporation (MACDC). MACDC was organized by the Executive Directors of six independent community development corporations to provide project management services for their respective member organizations. This collaboration was strategic because it afforded the CDC’s an opportunity to complete developments without retaining project managers when no development was underway. Enterprise Community Partners were so impressed with the concept, they decided to provide initial funding to implement this initiative.
SUMMECH, in a collaboration that included the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) and Columbia Residential, developed over 500 mixed-income apartment units - Columbia Mechanicsville. The apartmentswere built on the site that had notoriously been known as McDaniel-Glenn, one of the City of Atlanta’s oldest public housing projects. Upon completion, Columbia Mechanicsville will consist of 907 market-rate, mixed-income units across a broad range of housing types. This development is partially funded by one of the last HOPE VI grants issued by the federal government
Furthering the holistic approach to community development, SUMMECH recognized a need and an opportunity to provide housing counseling training to individuals interested in purchasing homes in the Mechanicsville area, as well as other inner city communities. Initially, these services were contracted through other service providers at a cost to the organization. With the vision of SUMMECH’s leadership team, the organization was able to enroll staff in the NeighborWorks Training Programs, and upon completion of these training classes, realized their vision of providing these services in-house. Enhancing its position in this market, SUMMECH applied for and received designation and certification as a HUD Certified Housing Counseling Agency, thus, increasing the capacity to comprehensibly promote responsible homeownership.
Always seeking opportunities to continually expand services, SUMMECH developed a new program entitled “Paving The Way.” This program provides extensive housing services at no cost to the participants. SUMMECH offers homebuyer education workshops and counseling services through this program that are designed to prepare participants for matters such as:
Additional services include training on various topics, such as:
Past participants often praise SUMMECH’S “Paving The Way” program, citing it’s thorough and clearly presented curriculum, combined with its manageable workshop size and settings.
In an attempt to build homes on vacant lots, SUMMECH created another new project, “Fill In The Gaps,” which was the development of single-family, detached housing units. Fifteen houses were completed that ranged between $180,000 and $265,000.00. Due to the exceptional quality of the development and services, all houses were sold to owner occupied residents thereby increasing the population and expanding the tax base for Mechanicsville.
Fortunately, the homes were completed before the housing market bubbled and resulting real estate crisis.
SUMMECH is a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) with the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia. Throughout its history, SUMMECH CDC has held steadfast to the vision of its two dynamic founding partners. During the past 20 years, members of its dedicated staff have been good stewards of their combined legacies.
When driving through the neighborhood, it is hard to discern which of the fashionable, mixed-income developments are occupied by residents earning less than 80% of the Area Median Income. For example, Rosa Burney Manor maintains some of the most affordable rental rates throughout the entire Metropolitan Atlanta area!
SUMMECH CDC stands as a testament holding true to its mission “…to provide affordable housing, promote home ownership and encourage economic development in the Mechanicsville community for present and future residents.”
Committed to ensuring a quality lifestyle for all in the Mechanicsville area, SUMMECH acknowledges that a community is desirable if those who live there have a stake in its schools, its business community and the safety and security of all its residents. The work is by no means finished. “Building Communities that Last” is the focus going forward.
Following is a list of some of SUMMECH’s major accomplishments to date: