Athena Ayers, an instructional coach at Carver STEAM Academy, was told unexpectedly by her landlord that she and her daughter, Micah, 5, had just 12 days to find a new place to live.
With such little warning, Ayers was in a bind. She recalled that Purpose Built Schools Atlanta’s partner, Focused Community Strategies (FCS), may be able to help.
For the past 20 years, FCS has come alongside residents of Historic South Atlanta to create a flourishing community through mixed-income housing, economic development, neighborhood engagement, and training and consulting. FCS has been partnering with under-resourced Atlanta neighborhoods for 40 years starting with Grant Park, and then Ormewood Park, Summerhill, and East Lake.
“When I began working at Carver, I went on a bus tour of the community that was hosted by FCS where they described what they do and their services,” remembers Ayers noting she simply wanted to learn more about the neighborhood where her school’s students lived. “I still had the business card for Shell Stafford, their family services manager, who manages their rental properties. She helped me find a home and move in under two weeks; and they’ve been taking care of my daughter and me ever since!”
Mixed-income housing is key
FCS knows mixed-income housing is the foundation of a thriving neighborhood. The organization creates home buying and rental opportunities for all residents across the income spectrum. They renovate abandoned properties, tear down dilapidated properties for new construction, and own rental homes in the community to create a balanced housing inventory.
One of those rental properties has been occupied by Ayers for the past three years. Ayers joined Purpose Built Schools Atlanta (PBSA) in 2018 as an instructional coach for math and science teachers supporting grades 9-12. Additionally, she is part of a math task force for the entire PBSA cluster (pre-K to 12) and works with all the department and grade level chairs to provide professional development.
Ayers moved to a historic three-bedroom, one bathroom home within walking distance to Carver STEAM Academy and loves living so close to the school. She was already invested in the neighborhood as an instructional coach, but now she’s also involved as a resident. She recently created a group for girls at Carver called Empowered Young Women where she collaborates with Beyoncé dancer, Diddi Emah, and her group Unicorn Dreams to connect young community members with mentors in different industries. She also started a local “Mommy and Me” club for parents of children ages 2-10.
FCS has been particularly supportive to neighborhood residents during the pandemic. Ayers says the staff checks in on her and Micah, they send birthday cards and have a community newsletter with events and resources.
“My uncle was in the ICU with Covid at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Ayers. “Thankfully, he recovered but when he was released from the hospital he didn’t have a place to live or groceries, so I helped him out a lot. The FCS team offered to help me out because they knew it was an extra difficult time for my family. Their support has really been incredible.”
Financing equitable access to housing
For over 40 years, FCS has financed equitable access to housing. To push aside obstacles to home ownership, FCS created their own mortgage product decades ago: a 20-year, 0% interest rate mortgage program for families throughout southeast Atlanta neighborhoods.
The program has been a cornerstone to creating an equitable, mixed-income community in Historic South Atlanta. FCS has serviced over 400 mortgages in southeast Atlanta as a way of helping neighbors flourish.
FCS recently launched FCS Community Finance, a community development financial institution (CDFI). CDFIs can be banks, credit unions, loan funds, microloan funds, or venture capital providers. They strive to foster economic opportunity and revitalize neighborhoods.
CDFIs are helping families finance their first homes, supporting community residents starting businesses, and investing in local health centers, schools, or community centers. There are 1,000 CDFIs operating nationwide They are a collaborative force that brings together diverse private and public sector investors to create economic opportunity to support community transformation.
Thanks to a technical assistance grant from the CDFI Fund via the US Treasury and a partnership with NeighborWorks Columbus, FCS Community Finance is up and running and recently closed on their inaugural mortgage.
When Ayers’ lease is up this summer, she and Micah hope to move to a larger home – whether through the FCS rental program or possibly even purchasing her own home through the FCS mortgage program. Whatever the case, she knows she will stay in this neighborhood with the support of an amazing partner like FCS.