Downtown Athens, a thriving hub for business, is composed of many different bars, stores and restaurants. However, just a few minutes from this area on Winterville road is an area of Athens that has been walled off from the rest of the city in an institutionally racist and segregated fashion.
Though the area surrounding Winterville road faces many institutional issues, more and more students are beginning to move into East Athens due to its low rent and real estate prices. East Athens is slowly being gentrified. Though it helps students find lower housing rates, this process will inevitably raise property values and rent for people who live in East Athens, many of whom can already not afford to live there.
East Athens is sometimes referred to as the Iron Triangle, but Athens-Clarke County Government labels it as District Two. A special election will be held for this district’s commissioner on May 22 and it is important that people in Athens understand why this district needs awareness and consideration.
"There is this movement where poverty is becoming more suburbanized."
-Kimberly Skobba, UGA Professor
District two is a low-income housing area, where the median real estate price is 89.4 percent less expensive than other neighborhoods in Georgia and the United States. These numbers are a stark contrast from the surrounding areas. Near Barnett Shoals road and Lexington road, the median real estate price is 50 percent more expensive than other neighborhoods in Georgia. Martin Luther King parkway and North Avenue are 54.7 percent more expensive and Oconee street and Poplar street are 41.3 percent more expensive.
“People want walkable neighborhoods, they want places that have amenities, and that is pushing low-income people out to the suburbs,” said Dr. Kimberly Skobba about the back to the city movement. Skobba’s research focuses on low-income housing. “There is this movement where poverty is becoming more suburbanized.”
The large percentage of people in East Athens have African of Sub-Saharan African ancestry (8.6 percent). Most of the prominent ancestry of the surrounding areas is Irish, with the exception of Oconee and Poplar streets where the majority (5 percent) are identified as Mexican.
However, the starkest difference is between the area surrounding Winterville road and Winterville, the city bordering Athens-Clarke County. The city resides right next to Winterville road but is defined as a separate area. In this area, 86.16 percent of people are employed as white collar workers.
All of these numbers matter because they define a segregated area in Athens, where a majority of people of color reside in a low-income housing area. The area is also known for crimes such as gang violence, historical problems with policing and even issues of child molestation at Cedar Shoals High school, the only high school in the area.
The problem here is not the area itself, it is the lack of awareness about the area. Students are choosing to move into areas like East Athens because the housing is more affordable in comparison to the luxury student apartments. However many do not realize the implications of these actions. Due to this, when considering zoning areas, the Athens government should consider the low-income neighborhoods, not just the potential for luxury apartments.
“When you look at Athens, the poverty rating is very high,” said Skobba. “I do think that there is a pretty huge divide between what the students see living around campus, and what exists in Athens-Clarke County as a whole.”
While development of the downtown area for retail businesses and building luxury student apartments may bring in revenue, it will not change the fact that there is a part of Athens that deserves to be given equal attention. This is especially considering the fact that more students are beginning to gentrify the East Athens in an effort to avoid the luxury student apartments in the first place.