Just a block off Buford Highway in Brookhaven, Rebekah Morris looks out onto an empty dirt lot.
“It’s just so sad,” Morris said.
Morris is with Los Vecinos, a group that advocates for residents in the area’s older complexes. She said this property used to be the Park Villa apartments.
“Most of the people who lived here were Hispanic from Central America: Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador,” she said.
But last year, all of those people had to move because the property was sold for a luxury townhome development.
The story has become common along Buford Highway. In the three-mile stretch of the corridor in Brookhaven alone, four complexes have been demolished in recent years.
That makes Morris not only sad, but worried.
“When you take out one property here, there’s 80, 90, to two, three hundred units, and within each unit there’s five to six, seven people,” Morris said. “So you can see a thousand people just disappear.”
And yet, the redevelopment of the area’s older complexes is part of Brookhaven’s plan. Christian Sigman, city manager, said it wants to attract new development to the area.
“The buildings are substandard. They’re 1950s, ’60s apartment buildings,” said Sigman.
He said so much of the infrastructure in the complexes is not up to code — from plumbing to electricity — that they’re past the point of renovation. It’s more economical just to start over, Sigman said.
“So we let it be known in the development community that we will support and partner on projects in those key areas along Buford Highway,” he said.
Still, Sigman said Brookhaven is working to help current residents stay, even with the redevelopment.
As part of an overhaul of the city’s zoning code, Brookhaven is considering requiring some affordable housing priced for 80 percent of the area median income. For a family of three, that’s about $50,000 annually.
Sigman said the city also could negotiate for greater affordability depending on the project.
“We want to change the buildings, not the people,” Sigman said.
But the advocates with Los Vecinos say many residents here earn much less. And they’re already faced with few options.
Maria Verónica Tapia used to live at Park Villa. When she sits down at a restaurant along Peachtree Road in Brookhaven, she’s spent a year without a permanent home.
“Living some days with my daughter in Austell,” Tapia said. “And other days, living here with my friends.”
Tapia said the other Park Villa residents are all over the place now, too.
“I never see them,” Tapia said. “I just talk on the phone, and that’s it. Then I see them in their Facebook, and that’s it. And I miss them because they are very good neighbors.”
To keep communities like hers intact, Los Vecinos said Brookhaven needs to do more to reach people with lower incomes.
Most of all, the group recommends preserving the naturally cheap complexes that can be salvaged. Otherwise, to reach that same level of affordability, Brookhaven would have to subsidize projects.
The zoning changes go before Brookhaven’s planning commission Wednesday.
Meanwhile, two other cities that include Buford Highway, Chamblee and Doraville, face affordability concerns of their own.