A Purposely Built Community: Public Housing Redevelopment and Resident Replacement at East Lake Meadows

On a sunny day in late October 1998, Tiger Woods, the young golfing prodigy of mixed race ancestry and a working class background, hit the inaugural tee shot at Charlie Yates Golf Course, a public course that had recently opened alongside the redeveloped East Lake Golf Club.

East Lake, where a young Bobby Jones learned the game, would be hosting its first ever season ending PGA Tour tournament. Woods, who would be competing that weekend, had made history the year before when at the age of twenty-one he became the youngest and first non-white player to win the Masters. In hitting the first tee shot at Charlie Yates, Woods was showing his support for the redevelopment occurring in the community surrounding the East Lake Golf Club. “I think what they’ve done is absolutely phenomenal,” Woods said. The bold revitalization taking place around the course had not only captured the attention of those who visited East Lake, but was being touted by major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post as a model for neighborhood rejuvenation around the country. 1In the East Lake community, however, all was not as auspicious as it seemed. While Woods struggled through his first tournament at East Lake the leaders of the community’s public housing development were preparing for their day in court, demanding a halt to the redevelopment. The tenant association of the neighborhood’s soon to be demolished public housing project believed that their voices were not only being silenced as part of the redevelopment process, but that the Atlanta Housing Authority was breaking the legal contract outlining their redevelopment. In response, the tenant association filed litigation demanding an injunction to stop the demolition of their homes. The tenants lost the litigation, their homes were demolished, and a majority of them never returned to the newly constructed mixed-income community. Moreover, their critical voices, which had reverberated around the halls of East Lake Meadows and throughout the city, have been largely forgotten in East Lake’s history.In many ways, the redevelopment of the East Lake neighborhood is a remarkable success story. In the early 1990s East Lake, which is located five miles east of downtown Atlanta, was one of the poorest and most violent communities in the city, the anchor of which was the East Lake Meadows public housing project. 2 Bobby Jones’s home course had fallen into disrepair alongside the community. Beginning in 1993, however, Tom Cousins, a wealthy real estate developer with a passion for golf, realized that he could bring the golf course back to championship grade and use the course’s revitalization as a catalyst to lift the community out of poverty. Thus began a redevelopment process that has presently made East Lake the home of the state’s highest-ranked charter school, a 50/50 market-rate and publicly assisted housing community, a YMCA, an early learning center, a grocery store, and a well-endowed and community-focused foundation.Yet for all its success, East Lake’s story serves more as a model of community replacement than community development. The poor being served at East Lake today are not the same kind of poor who were forced to live in an underfunded and under policed East Lake Meadows. The poor who inhabit the new East Lake meet requirements that include having a full-time job and a clean criminal record. 3 Almost 90 percent of the poor who lived in the old East Lake were unemployed, and the neighborhood’s crime rate was eighteen times the national average. 4 Those poor, like many of the thousands that inhabited severely distressed public housing units in the 1990s, either happily left their bleak living conditions in search of a safer community, or watched from afar as their public housing developments were demolished and the redeveloped mixed-income community welcomed a more “deserving” poor.

This essay relies on the news archives of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the archives of the Atlanta Housing Authority, and the memories of those involved in the redevelopment to piece together a detailed account of the relationships between the Atlanta Housing Authority, Cousins, and the East Lake Meadows residents. 5 This story is told alongside the wider history of public housing in East Lake in order to illustrate that the redevelopment at East Lake, touted by many as a gold standard for community development, is more an example of community replacement than community development.

East Lake’s Beginnings

In 1904 the Atlanta Athletic Club, an organization of elite Atlanta businessman, purchased an abandoned amusement park just outside the city limits and transformed it into Atlanta’s first golf course. The newly built East Lake Golf Club attracted golf’s best from around the world to the southern United States and many of the Athletic Club’s members built summer homes around the course. East Lake grew into a center for the city’s golfing elite and became a breeding ground for some of the top golfers in the world. Most notably, East Lake was Bobby Jones’ home course. In 1930, Jones made golf history by completing the Grand Slam of golf: winning all four major tournaments in a single year. The golf course and neighborhood maintained its prestige throughout the next three decades, consistently hosting top-level amateur and professional golf tournaments including the 1963 Ryder Cup. 6

“East Lake Country Club and Golf Course, Atlanta, Ga.” Card. 1930. The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library.

Yet, as Arnold Palmer and the Americans were solidifying a win over the British in the fall of 1963, change was brewing in the Atlanta Athletic Club’s board room and Atlanta as a whole. After the Ryder Cup, news broke that the Athletic Club had purchased land twenty-five miles north of the city. While the club denied the rumors that they were considering moving, the migration of the Club’s membership told a different story. 7

Drawing depicting an aerial view of East Lake Meadows, a public housing project built on area formerly occupied by a golf course, Atlanta, Georgia, September 1969. AJCP551-062u, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archives. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy of Georgia State University.

In the 1960s Atlanta was going through an unprecedented transformation in its neighborhood demographics. Over the course of the decade, Atlanta lost 60,000 whites, one-fifth of the total white population, to the suburbs. 8 East Lake was no exception to this phenomenon. In 1960, the neighborhood was home to just over thirteen thousand Atlantans, 99.8 percent of whom were white. In 1970, almost seventeen thousand people lived in East Lake, and 57 percent of them were white. The other 43 percent were black. By 1980, 95 percent of the almost twenty-thousand Atlantans who lived in East Lake were black. 9

The Athletic Club evolved with the East Lake neighborhood. In 1965, they announced the sale of East Lake’s No. 2 course, a nine-hole course adjacent to the original eighteen-hole course, to developers interested in zoning the land for apartments. 10 Three years later, in April 1968, the club’s directors informed their membership that they were selling all of their East Lake property. To keep the historic course from meeting the same fate as East Lake’s No. 2 Course, twenty-five members purchased the land. 11 These men established the East Lake Country Club, and for the next twenty years attempted to maintain the course’s relevance while the neighborhood transformed around it.

Atlanta’s demographic changes also pressured the city’s Housing Authority to build additional affordable housing. The Housing Authority and mayor Ivan Allen prioritized increasing affordable housing at low cost. 12 In 1965, Allen committed his administration to developing 16,800 units of affordable housing. 13 Over the next five years Atlanta almost doubled its public housing stock, but the city still could not meet demand. Over two thousand families were on the waiting list at the beginning of 1970, and even with the opening of over a thousand new units throughout the year, there were over four thousand families on the waiting list at the start of 1971. Under these pressures the city decided to develop the land on which East Lake’s No. 2 course sat. Since it was sold in 1965, developers had been unsuccessful in rezoning the land for apartments. Mayor Allen made a deal with developers assuring them that he would push through the rezoning proposal if the developers built public housing. 14 After a prolonged battle with the zoning committee, East Lake was rezoned for apartments in May 1968. 15

During its construction, East Lake Meadows was lauded for representing much-needed innovation in public housing policy. The Atlanta Constitution described East Lake Meadows as a “remarkable low-cost … housing development,” and noted that it would likely “serve as a model of what low-cost housing could be like.” 16 In 1971 East Lake opened its 800 units, which housed all low-income, mostly black, and largely single parent households. 17

“Little Vietnam”

Mayor Allen’s focus on low-cost housing, however, contributed to East Lake’s poorly built physical infrastructure. In 1974, three years after East Lake opened, residents complained to maintenance for two days as raw sewage flowed from a manhole cover into the development—a problem that the understaffed maintenance crew was wholly incapable of dealing with. 18

“Police officers outside of an East Lake Meadows apartment, October 28, 1992.” Photo by Walter Stricklin. AJCP183-042u, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archives. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy of Georgia State University.

In order to combat these concerns, East Lake residents created a formal tenant association and elected Meadows resident Eva Belle Davis as chair. Davis was well known as a community leader, and at the time of her election was also serving as president of the DeKalb chapter of the Welfare Rights Organization. Davis worked diligently on behalf of the Meadows. In the early 1970s she developed a community space, and she fought to bring issues of crime and unemployment to the attention of city officials. 19 Despite the clear need for investment in Davis’ work and the work of others at East Lake, the Southeastern regional director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) noted in 1974 that there was nothing he could do to help. “All we can do,” he said, “is dispense money as required by government regulations. We don’t have any provisions for social programs.” 20

The lack of investment in maintenance, upkeep, and social programs at the Meadows worked to turn East Lake into one of the city’s largest open-air drug markets, marred by alarming levels of violence and home to substandard living conditions. 21During the late 1970s and 1980s the Atlanta Constitution began to report regularly on the conditions at the Meadows. Reporters highlighted one woman’s housing unit, reporting that “her toilets leak, flooding her apartment with sewage and shorting out her lights. Electrical fixtures and sockets stand open to prying young fingers, but few of the lights work.” The plumbing issues persisted: “a one and one-half-square-foot chunk of her ceiling collapsed from above the stairwell one year ago; thanks to the leaky plumbing. Metal and plaster hit two of the nine children living in the four-bedroom apartment.” 22 In addition to abominable living conditions, residents were exposed to persistent violence, only a fraction of which was covered in the press. One public official described the violence at the Meadows as “another problem … that no one seems able to solve,” and cited one weekend in 1980 in which seven shootings were reported in the complex. 23 By the 1980s the pervasiveness of the violence at East Lake led residents and Atlantans to refer to it as “Little Vietnam.”

The Atlanta Housing Authority did little to stop East Lake’s deterioration. The Housing Authority’s board faced constant turnover throughout the 1970s and 1980s and was marred by scandals. 24 Many of the other large scale projects built in the late 1960s faced similar issues in physical structure and upkeep. In 1981, the Housing Authority declared that they needed over $83 million on top of their operating budget to bring their housing stock to “an acceptable living condition.” 25 Continuing budget cuts at the national level left the Housing Authority unable to construct any new housing and incapable of bringing the already existing housing up to a minimum level of acceptability. 26

East Lake Comes to the Forefront

Brochure for “The Atlanta Project.” The Atlanta Project coordinator’s records, Emory University Archives, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University. Copyright The Carter Center. Courtesy Rose Library, Emory University.

Luckily, the anticipation of the 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta encouraged former Georgia governor and president Jimmy Carter to actively address the city’s poverty. One of the initial focus areas for this scheme, named the Atlanta Project, was East Lake Meadows. 27Carter took special interest in East Lake because the extent of its issues were shocking to himself and the political and business elite involved.

The average yearly income of residents was around $5,000, and over 80 percent of the adults were unemployed. Ninety-five percent of the almost three-thousand households were headed by women, and over 60 percent of the population was under the age of twenty. The drug trade was worth an estimated $38 million annually, and over 20 percent of the apartments were vacant. ((Douglas Blackmon, “East Lake; Can Gulf Between Two Worlds Be Bridged?” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 22, 1991, and Renee Glover, “The Toxic Impact of Concentrated Poverty,” Lessons Learned, August 17, 2009, http://ahalessonslearned.blogspot.com/2009/08/toxic-impact-of-concentrated-poverty_17.html.)

)In late October 1992 the Atlanta Project announced its first success at East Lake. In a reported “direct, behind the scenes appeal,” Carter successfully lobbied HUD to budget $33.5 million for the Atlanta Housing Authority to renovate East Lake Meadows. Eva Davis viewed the money as a “miracle,” and an answer to everything that the residents had been asking for. 28 They saw the funds being used for everything from replacing the electrical system to installing new furnaces in every unit.

“Bringing Golf to Public Housing”

But before The Atlanta Project and the residents of East Lake Meadows could begin to fully conceptualize how the $33 million could be spent, an unexpected Atlantan entered the fray and altered the city’s visions of the redevelopment possibilities at East Lake.In mid-November 1993, the development firm Cousins Properties purchased the East Lake Golf Club for $4.5 million. 29 Cousins Properties, founded in 1958 by a then twenty-six year old Atlantan named Tom Cousins, was one of the most successful real-estate companies in the country. Within six years of its founding, the company was the largest home builder in Georgia. Cousins Properties is responsible for much of the Atlanta skyline, including the Omni Hotel and the Bank of America building. 30

Cousins had a longtime passion for golf and interest in the East Lake Country Club. 31 In purchasing the East Lake Country Club, Cousins was determined to bring the course back to its former glory.At the end of May 1995, the Housing Authority and the Cousins Family Foundation, represented by Cousins’ son-in-law Greg Giornelli, unveiled their plan for redeveloping the Meadows to the East Lake Meadows tenant association. They proposed demolishing the 650 units of housing at the Meadows and replacing them with a mixed-income development of 406 single family homes, duplexes, and apartments, alongside recreation space, and a public golf course.

They projected the redevelopment would cost $52 million; $32 million would be covered by the HUD grant awarded for East Lake’s rehabilitation, and the rest would be raised by Cousins. Cousins would raise the $20 million using membership fees from the East Lake Golf Club. He gave the club to what would become the East Lake Foundation and planned to invest the majority of the $250,000 corporate membership fees in the Meadows’ redevelopment. This allowed the future corporate members to gain a $200,000 tax write-off from joining East Lake Golf Course, and enabled Cousins to write off a portion of the almost $30 million that Cousins Properties had invested in the golf course’s revitalization. 32

Tom Cousins and Mayor Sam Massell breaking ground for the Atlanta Coliseum, March 31, 1971. Photo by Charles R. Pugh. AJCP276-051by, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archive. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy of Georgia State University.

Before East Lake would be ready to host the world’s top golfers, Cousins felt the need to address the poverty in the broader neighborhood. Cousins, who had a long history as a philanthropist in Atlanta, focused the resources of his family foundation on improving East Lake. 33 Cousins also bought up property in the neighborhood to accelerate its revitalization. Working under a veil of secrecy to ensure that property owners did not hike up their asking price, Cousins contracted the work of purchasing East Lake property through two Atlanta law firms, who in turn hired African American real estate brokers to purchase the most depressed properties. This helped to clear the way for development that not only added to the profits of Cousins Properties but also made the neighborhood “look better” to the world’s top golfers and the city’s business and political elite. 34

In 1994 Cousins also began planning the revitalization of what he believed to be at the center of the neighborhood’s problems – the East Lake Meadows public housing project. Cousins worked with his colleagues at the East Lake Golf Club and his foundation, as well as with city officials, to devise the plan for “The New Community at East Lake.” Cousins began speaking with the Atlanta Housing Authority about a redevelopment plan at the Meadows. His ideas proved attractive to Renee Glover, a former Wall Street corporate lawyer who had recently joined the board of the Atlanta Housing Authority. Glover entered into the fray of the Housing Authority during a time of rampant mismanagement and was appointed CEO in September 1994, determined to radically reshape the institution.

Glover was a firm believer that large-scale public housing developments were an utter failure, and that the living conditions in Atlanta’s public housing were intolerable. These contentions led Glover to prioritize getting “people out of these horrible conditions,” while vowing not to “rebuild a newer version of something that has failed.” She also believed that “the private sector had to be very much a part of the solution” to the housing problem – a view that made Cousins’ plan to center the redevelopment around a revitalized golf course especially attractive. 35

The leaders of the East Lake tenant association were immediately skeptical of Glover and Cousins’ intentions and requested the counsel of longtime public housing advocate Dennis Goldstein. 36 Goldstein, an Atlanta Legal Aid attorney, was at the time representing tenant associations in other housing projects under redevelopment. At the request of the tenants, President Carter also assigned Frank Alexander, a faculty member at Emory University’s School of Law who was serving as a fellow with the Atlanta Project, to represent the tenants alongside Goldstein. 37

Meadows residents immediately began to worry about the plan’s consequences. Vivian Louise Featherstone, a sixty-seven year old Meadows resident, remembered thinking, “Where are we going?” and “how will we survive?” Now, in addition to the bullets, she felt she had to fear Cousins’ and Glover’s bulldozers as well. Eva Davis vowed to reject the plan. “A lot of residents feel like this is a sneaky way to get rid of us,” Davis said. She believed that Cousins and Glover were “just pushing [the residents] away from the golf course.” 38 Many of the residents were worried about the stark reduction in the number of public housing units – from 650 to 206 – and the lack of planning for replacement housing.

Glover understood the concern and stressed that this was “just a proposal,” and that “nothing [would] happen without resident consent.” Giornelli also noted that “the next challenge will be to find good, decent, safe housing off the East Lake Meadows site.” 39 He remained confident that the Foundation, the Housing Authority, and the tenants would “be able to work through this together.” 40

Over the next six months, the Housing Authority and the tenant association, with the guidance of Goldstein and Alexander, met weekly to work towards a redevelopment agreement. In the negotiations the residents’ main goal was to ensure that they had the right to live in whatever new facilities would be built. 41

“Great Step Forward”

Less than six months after Glover and Giornelli publicly revealed their contentious plan for redevelopment at East Lake Meadows, the tenant association and the Housing Authority signed a redevelopment cooperative agreement, outlining the timeline and details of East Lake’s demolition and redevelopment. Davis, Glover, and Giornelli were excited about the future redevelopment, and praised the effort and compromise that went into reaching an agreement. Davis noted that she “felt like we’re going somewhere,” and despite the “long, drawn-out process” thanked “God we made it.” Glover declared that the redeveloped Meadows was destined to be “the best community in the country and the world,” and Giornelli was happy to be celebrating “a project that’s redefining public housing in America.” Carter added to the praise, saying that the agreement was an important step forward in the process, but noted that much hard work had to be done before the redevelopment was complete. 42

The agreement between the Housing Authority and the tenant association was legally binding, and outlined how the Meadows could be transformed “with the highest probability of long term success.” 43 The Housing Authority agreed to replace all of the units at the Meadows and that 40 percent of those units would be on the site of the old Meadows. The other 60 percent would be a mixture of housing vouchers and newly constructed housing units elsewhere in the city. 44

The agreement also outlined the project’s three phases, which were intended to minimize the displacement of Meadows residents. This involved demolishing vacant buildings, building on vacant land, and constructing nearby off-site housing before tearing down any occupied units. The Housing Authority also agreed that any resident of the Meadows as of July 1, 1995 still in compliance with their lease would have a right to replacement housing at the end of the development. 45

The agreement also promised that the residents would have “significant involvement … in the planning and implementation phases” of the development. 46 The involvement of residents at every step of the process and the focus on minimizing displacement seemed promising to Meadows residents. In the following year, however, residents grew to believe that the promises laid out in the agreement were not being met, leaving them angry, disappointed, and unsure whether Glover and Cousins had ever had their best interests in mind.

“The Loud Voices of Incivility Now Reign”

Beginning shortly after the agreement was signed, the resident planning committee, along with Alexander and Goldstein, began meeting weekly with Glover, Giornelli, and Doug Faust, a newly hired Atlanta Housing Authority administrator responsible for resident relocation. The most important aspect of the meetings for the residents, according to Goldstein, was that they felt like an “equal bargaining partner,” as opposed to being treated “paternalistically … and forced to leave.” Goldstein recalled that in these initial meetings, the Housing Authority and the resident planning committee worked together “in good faith.” 47Most of the members of the resident planning committee, who continued to live on-site as demolition began, expected to use their right to return. They were adamant about living on-site for as long as possible, in part to oversee and provide input during the redevelopment process. Tensions began to rise, however, as redevelopment began at the Meadows. Demolition began, but the construction of off-site housing promised in the agreement did not appear to be on schedule. The relationship between the residents and the Housing Authority, and the residents and Giornelli and the East Lake Foundation, started to fray as the resident planning committee, and Davis in particular, more sharply expressed their frustration. While Faust recalled acknowledging that the long history of broken promises the residents had experienced informed their fear and frustration, he also recalled that “there was a fair amount of lack of respect between the residents and the Authority.” 48 Goldstein recalled that Faust and the Atlanta Housing Authority dealt well with this perceived “lack of respect,” but that Giornelli “did not have the cultural sensitivity that was needed.” This, Goldstein recalled, created “a lot of friction between Giornelli and Davis” that, in his opinion, “Giornelli did not handle so well.” 49 Furthermore, Goldstein recalled that he, Alexander, and the tenants only spoke face-to-face with Cousins once. All issues relating to the East Lake Foundation and Cousins Properties’ role in the redevelopment were managed by Giornelli. 50


Despite the rising tensions, and before any of the new units of housing were finished at East Lake, the East Lake story was receiving national praise. In October 1997 Cousins was named Developer of the Year by one of the most respected real estate associations. Cousins devoted his acceptance speech to discussing the success of his “East Lake project,” and encouraged his colleagues to take on similar challenges. He implored the developers in the room to “look for opportunity in your own inner city. And then do what you do so well. Develop it.” 51

Yet the negotiations at East Lake had already begun to unravel. Residents wanted a say in screening residents for the new development, but the Housing Authority insisted that right remain with the East Lake Foundation. This meant that Cousins and his team would have the final say as to who was allowed to move back into the development. Davis denounced this as a “takeover,” claiming that it was “not about helping public housing residents” but about “running us out.” In a meeting with Faust in February 1998, Davis promised to “make it so ugly [at the Meadows] that no one will move into new units.” 52 The residents voted in late February 1998 to expel the East Lake Foundation from “further participation in reconstruction.” 53 The vote was only symbolic and the development continued on schedule. By September 1998 it was becoming clear to the resident planning committee that the promised off-site construction would not be completed before the remaining Meadows units were demolished. The resident planning committee asked that the twenty-eight families left at the Meadows be moved to the newly finished on-site units, but Cousins wanted to restrict that to fifteen. Glover explained that the restriction was necessary to ensure that the community was “stabilized.” The other thirteen families would be given a temporary housing voucher until there were more units among which Cousins could disperse the residents. The resident planning committee viewed this as eviction, and demanded that at worst they be relocated to a nearby housing development. They threatened to sue if their demand was not met. 54Goldstein believed that Cousins’ hard line on the fifteen units was “sending the wrong message” to the residents at the Meadows. Goldstein recalled that the Housing Authority and the residents wanted to avoid a lawsuit, but it was Giornelli and the Foundation that refused to compromise. The residents filed an injunction to halt the development, citing a breach of the redevelopment cooperative agreement, in late September 1998. 55

The same month, the PGA Tour held its first tournament at the renovated East Lake Golf Club, bringing East Lake’s story to a national audience. The Washington Post published a story titled “East Lake Changes Course of Its Neighborhood.” The Post was amazed by the redevelopment of the East Lake golf course into “the St. Andrews of America,” but called the golf course’s revitalization “not even half the story.” The best part, they wrote, was the revitalization of the neighborhood that placed “welfare recipients” next to “residents who pay market-value for modern, brick townhouses and apartments.” While the article noted that there was some controversy about replacement housing, Giornelli assured the Post that this was a “tiny minority” of residents. 56

Photo by W. A. Bridges. AJCP183-042t, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archives. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy Georgia State University

“It’s Divide and Conquer”

Alexander believed that more was at stake in the injunction case than ensuring the replacement housing was constructed. The loss of the injunction, he believed, would severely restrict the residents’ ability to hold the Housing Authority accountable to the redevelopment cooperative agreement. The agreement was legally binding between the Housing Authority and the tenant association. However, if the remaining units at East Lake Meadows were demolished, the tenant association would cease to legally exist, making any future litigation brought against the Housing Authority on behalf of the tenant association impossible. Alexander recalled believing that he would “lose his client,” if the injunction failed. 57

In December 1998, Goldstein and Alexander made their case against the Atlanta Housing Authority in DeKalb County Equity Court. The judge found that, even though the Housing Authority deviated from the “strict terms” of the agreement, this “shortfall” was not “significant or material as to prevent [the Housing Authority] from proceeding with further redevelopment activities on-site at East Lake.” He denied the motion for an injunction. 58

The loss of the injunction was a devastating blow to Davis and the tenant association. They were forced to vacate their housing units at the Meadows by the end of the month, and as Alexander had predicted, it constituted the end of the battle between the tenant association and the Housing Authority and East Lake Foundation. Demolition began as soon as the resident planning committee left what was East Lake Meadows for the last time. A defeated Davis told the Housing Authority that “what y’all are doing to us is not right.” Davis believed that she had “made a mistake” working with Glover, but accepted that “I have to move on.” 59

The East Lake Way

Glover noted that the Housing Authority was “very pleased” with the decision and was excited that they could “press ahead with the second phase of the East Lake redevelopment.” 60 Soon thereafter, units at the new Villages of East Lake began to open and the East Lake Foundation began screening the new market-rate and publicly assisted residents. Cousins was careful to ensure that the market-rate families would be good neighbors of the families on public assistance. For that reason, he recruited families from churches and seminaries around the country. 61 For the public housing units, Faust recalled that any of the Meadows families who wished to return to the Villages could do so. Goldstein, however, remembered a different story. Goldstein recalled that Cousins was “too careful,” meaning too stringent, while “screening out people who were potential problems.” Goldstein filed suit when Cousins’ screening illegally barred residents who used to live at the Meadows from returning.

For Goldstein, it was “irritating when they found that people who were on the list to come back had to go through litigation to get them back in the development.” 62 Of the 423 families who lived at the Meadows before the redevelopment, only sixty-nine families eventually returned to the Villages. 63Clearly, the Villages of East Lake is a healthier and more supportive community for its households on public assistance than East Lake Meadows was for the thousands who called it home. What is problematic is when the East Lake’s story is used as a model for community development around the country. This view is touted by the PGA Tour every fall, and is supported by Cousins and other members of Atlanta’s political and business elite through widely read editorials in national newspapers. Purpose Built Communities, a non-profit supported by Cousins and other major philanthropists dedicated to replicating East Lake around the country, tells the same story. These individuals and institutions highlight before-and-after snapshots that showcase statistics such as educational achievement, employment rates, and crime rates that have improved remarkably since the redevelopment.

This is a powerful narrative, one that lends credence to the notion that East Lake is a model that could be applied to other poor neighborhoods in cities across the country. The history of East Lake, however, is more complicated. These outcomes reflect what can happen when an extremely impoverished community is replaced with a less impoverished one. As inspiring as it is, East Lake’s story is not a case study in community development, but instead a case study in community replacement.

Brandon Thrasher in front of his East Lake apartment home. Louie Favorite, AJCP183-042f, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archive. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy of Georgia State University.

Cover Image Attribution: “David King and Barbara Smith stand on the front porch of their East Lake Meadows apartment building, November 21, 1991.” AJCP183-042p. Photo by W. A. Bridges, Jr.. Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archive. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. Copyright Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Courtesy of Georgia State University.

Citation: Goldstein, Adam. “A Purposely Built Community: Public Housing Redevelopment and Resident Replacement at East Lake Meadows.” Atlanta Studies. March 14, 2017. https://doi.org/10.18737/atls20170314.

Adam Goldstein is a Bobby Jones Scholar at the University of St. Andrews studying affordable housing policy. He graduated from Emory University in 2016. This article stems from his senior thesis in history written under the direction of Joseph Crespino.


  1. Clifton Brown, “Golf Course at the Center of a Community; Developer’s Dual Initiative Revives Atlanta Neighborhood,” New York Times, October 29, 1998, http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/29/sports/golf-golf-course-center-community-developer-s-dual-initiative-revives-atlanta.html.[]
  2. Edward Goetz, New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice & Public Housing Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 105.[]
  3. “Eligibility,” Atlanta Housing Authority, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.atlantahousing.org/for_participants.php.[]
  4. David C. Lewis, “How Golf Transformed a Blighted Neighborhood,” CNBC, April 22, 2008, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/24185797/ns/business-cnbc_tv/t/how-golf-transformed-blighted-neighborhood/#.WKTPERIrKqA.[]
  5. Interviews were carried out by the author, and where claims of fact are made by interviewees, they were corroborated with archival sources.[]
  6. “History of East Lake Golf Club,” East Lake Country Club, accessed January 12, 2016, http://www.eastlakegolfclub.com/about-us/history/.[]
  7. Sidney Matthew and Janice McDonald, East Lake Golf Club (Atlanta: Arcadia, 2015), 67, and Ted Simmons, “Athletic Club to Consider Selling East Lake’s no. 2 Course to Builder,” Atlanta Constitution, January 5, 1963.[]
  8. Kevin Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 234.[]
  9. United States Census Bureau, 1960 Atlanta Census Tracts: 150–55 and United States Census Bureau, 1970 Atlanta Census Tracts: 215–30 and United States Census Bureau, 1980 Atlanta Census Tracts: 117–27.[]
  10. Ted Simmons, “Athletic Club Votes to Sell Golf Course,” Atlanta Constitution, January 21, 1965.[]
  11. C. Roberts, “Big Battle Is Underway to ‘Save’ Old East Lake,” Atlanta Constitution, March 28, 1968.[]
  12. Alex Coffin, “Bankhead Site Okayed For Low-Cost Housing,” Atlanta Constitution, October 6, 1967.[]
  13. Alex Coffin, “East Lake No. 2 Zoned for Housing Coffin,” Atlanta Constitution, June 5, 1968.[]
  14. Maggie McCarty, “Introduction to Public Housing,” Congressional Research Service, January 3, 2016.[]
  15. Alex Coffin. “East Lake No. 2 Zoned for Housing,” Atlanta Constitution, June 5, 1968, and Alex Coffin, “East Lake Course Zoned for 800 Housing Units,” Atlanta Constitution, May 24, 1968.[]
  16. Nat Sheppard, “Area Poor Get Homes,” Atlanta Constitution, January 31, 1971. []
  17. Bill Seddon, “Poor Services Plague Area.” Atlanta Constitution, January 18, 1972.[]
  18. Chet Fuller and John Head, “Public Housing: It Will Take Much, Much More Than Money, Bricks or Mortar to Solve the Ugly Dilemma of the People Who Must Live Here,” Atlanta Constitution, November 10, 1974.[]
  19. Chuck Bell, “East Meadows Center Is ‘Almost’ a Reality,” Atlanta Constitution, September 6, 1972.[]
  20. Fuller and Head, “Public Housing.”[]
  21. Goetz, New Deal Ruins, 105.[]
  22. Barry King and George Rodrigue, “Jail Would Be Nicer than Some AHA Apartments,” Atlanta Constitution, January 14, 1981.[]
  23. Barry King, “Violence In ‘Little Vietnam,’” Atlanta Constitution, March 2, 1979.[]
  24. See more at “City Housing Authority Loses Third Board Member in a Year,” Atlanta Constitution, November 9, 1980, and Barry King and George Rodrigue, “Report Says Employees May Be Robbing Housing Authority Blind,” Atlanta Constitution, January 14, 1981.[]
  25. Barry King and George Rodrigue, “A Model in Public Housing Debased,” Atlanta Constitution, January 15, 1981.[]
  26. Pamela Fine, “Housing Authority to Lose $5 Million in Federal Funds,” Atlanta Constitution, March 23, 1982.[]
  27. Douglas Blackmon, “Carter Visits East Lake; Former President Says Curing Ills May Take Years,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 27, 1991.[]
  28. Lyle Harris, “$33.5 Million for East Lake Meadows Project to Get Major Overhaul; Tenant Leader Hails Funding as ‘a Miracle’,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 29, 1992.[]
  29. Mary Louise Kelly, “Reviving a Legendary Country Club: An Atlanta Developer Wants to Return East Lake to its Former Splendor, When the Legendary Bobby Jones Played Golf There,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 23, 1993.[]
  30. “Reaching New Heights,” Cousins Properties, accessed February 23, 2016, http://cousinsproperties.com/about-us/history/.[]
  31. Patricia Sellers, “More Than a Game Tom Cousins Chose an Unlikely Centerpiece – a Golf Course – to Revive an Atlanta Neighborhood. Is His Project a Model for Other Cities?” Forbes, September 3, 2001.[]
  32. Macon Morehouse, “New Lease on Life for East Lake?; Rebirth: New Neighborhood Would Boast Mixed-income Housing, Recreation Area and a Public Golf Course,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 1, 1995, and Glenn Sheeley and S. A. Reid, “Bringing Golf to Public Housing; Foundation Hopes Eat Lake Rehabilitation Project Will Turn Area Around,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 18, 1995.[]
  33. SECF Channel, “Tom Cousins Purpose Built Communities,” filmed [June 2013], Youtube video, 30:39, posted [June 2013], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cat5LfGPkNE.[]
  34. Paul McLarty, phone interview by the author, February 9, 2016.[]
  35. Lawrence Vale, Purging the Poorest: Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 108–14.[]
  36. No relation to the author.[]
  37. Frank Alexander, interview by the author, January 15, 2016.[]
  38. Morehouse, “New Lease on Life for East Lake?”[]
  39. Darryl Fears and Charmagne Helton, “East Lake Redevelopment; ‘Where Are We Going?’; Tenant Opposition: Public Housing Residents Are Concerned the Mixed-income Proposal Will Force Them to Relocate,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 2, 1995.[]
  40. Macon Morehouse, “Revised Plan Pushed for East Lake; Residents Contend More Homes Needed,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 14, 1995.[]
  41. Frank Alexander, interview by the author.[]
  42. S. A. Reid, “East Lake Pact: ‘Great Step Forward’,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 26, 1996.[]
  43. Atlanta Housing Authority, Redevelopment Cooperative Agreement by and Between the Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta, Georgia and East Lake Meadows Residents Association (Atlanta: Atlanta Housing Authority, 1996), 1–4.[]
  44. Housing vouchers refers to section 8 of the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act that emphasized the use of cash subsidies in addition to unit production as part of the federal housing strategy. For more, see Charles J. Orlebeke, “The Evolution of Low‐Income Housing Policy, 1949 to 1999,” Housing Policy Debate 11, no. 2 (2000): 489–520.[]
  45. Atlanta Housing Authority, Redevelopment Cooperative Agreement, 3, 7–9.[]
  46. Ibid., 1.[]
  47. Dennis Goldstein, interview by the author, February 7, 2016.[]
  48. Doug Faust, interview by the author, February 26, 2016. Giornelli was reached out to for comment but noted that he was often out of town and unavailable to comment on the project. He recommended Evan Smith, who was interviewed for this project, to fill in.[]
  49. Dennis Goldstein, interview by the author.[]
  50. Ibid.[]
  51. “Cousins Asks Developers to Duplicate East Lake,” Atlanta Business Chronicle, December 8, 1997.[]
  52. Villages at East Lake Records Collection, Atlanta Housing Authority Archives Collection, Atlanta Housing Authority, December 8, 2015.[]
  53. Hollis Towns, “Rebuilding Dispute; East Lake Residents Seek to Oust Developers,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 5, 1998.[]
  54. Hollis R. Towns, “East Lake Residents Might Sue; Housing Woes: Residents of the Housing Project Are Upset They Can’t Temporarily Move Into Newly Built Townhouses Meant to Replace Old Apartments,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 24, 1998, and Frank Alexander, interview by the author.[]
  55. Dennis Goldstein, interview by the author.[]
  56. Ray Glier, “East Lake Changes Course of Its Neighborhood,” Washington Post, November 1, 1998.[]
  57. Frank Alexander, interview by the author.[]
  58. East Lake Meadows Residents Association v. The Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta, Georgia (1998), Civil Action – Order – Superior Court (Superior Court of Fulton County 1998).[]
  59. Hollis R. Town, “East Lake Residents Dealt Legal Setback; Tenant Leader, Others Are Ordered to Move After Judge Vetoes Their Suit to Slow Redevelopment of Public Housing Complex,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 17, 1998.[]
  60. Ibid.[]
  61. Cynthia Tucker, “The Villages of East Lake: Hope From the Ground Up; Urban Model: Mixed-income Community That Replaced Beleaguered Housing Project Focuses on Spiritual and Economic Growth,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 17, 1999.[]
  62. Dennis Goldstein, interview by the author.[]
  63. Doug Faust, interview by the author.[]