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State of Decatur 2022: Mayor touts affordable housing, assistance to small businesses

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State of Decatur 2022: Mayor touts affordable housing, assistance to small businesses

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett. Photo obtained via http://pattigarrett.net/

By Cathi Harris, contributor 

Decatur, GA — Despite the disruptions caused by a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Decatur made significant progress in its goals on affordable housing, supporting its local business community and planning for an inclusive and sustainable future, the mayor said Tuesday.

During her annual State of the City address, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett highlighted the notable achievements of the past year, as well as the city’s goals for 2022. The general update for city residents included a presentation from Jana Johnson-Davis, the new chair of the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education, on the school district’s achievements and priorities over the same time.

“Together we have lived through adversity and some challenging times,” Garrett noted. “And together we have achieved some remarkable accomplishments. I thank you for the continued opportunity to serve as mayor of this amazing city.”

During 2021, city leaders looked for ways to protect and support the local small business community, Garrett said. The city was able to give grants to 26 small businesses, of an average $18,000 per business, for a total of $1.2 million in assistance. In addition, they were able to give $500,000 in support to 22 local nonprofits.

“These nonprofits employ many Decatur residents and support city services,” she added.

Although a significant number of local businesses did close over the last year, many new ones were launched, Garrett said. “We had 74 local businesses close over the past year, but the city issued 88 new business licenses, which is a net gain of 14 businesses.”

Together with its development authority, the city started the Decatur Retail Incubator Program (D.R.I.P.) to help new business owners get established in a storefront. 

“The Downtown Development Authority is providing mentorship and rental assistance funding for these businesses located in the West Ponce district,” Garrett said. “As DDA Chair Connor McNally noted, these three entrepreneurs showcase Decatur’s diversity as these business owners [include] women and people of color and a member of the LGBTQ+ community and they represent the best of Decatur.”

The city made progress on diversifying the types of housing available in the city, as several new residential  developments were announced or approved last year.

The mixed-use development featuring a newly opened Publix grocery store at the corner of Arcadia and East Ponce de Leon will eventually include 289 apartments near the Avondale MARTA station.

HALO Decatur, the mixed-use redevelopment of much of the area known as East Decatur Station along College Avenue, is the first new development to be approved under the city’s new inclusionary zoning ordinance, Garrett said. 

“This is also in very close proximity to the Avondale-Decatur MARTA station, which is inside our city limits,” she noted. “It will include 372 units, which will include 41 affordable housing units, as well as amenities such as a one-acre greenspace, and a co-working space.”

A smaller property, adjacent to the MARTA station, will feature 80 new affordable senior housing apartments, she said. These are being developed with MARTA and developer Columbia Residential and join an earlier phase of 92 units of senior housing that were constructed on that site in 2018.

The city is supporting both the HALO project and the senior housing development with funds from the East Decatur Tax Allocation District, which was established in that corridor in 2015, Garrett added.

The Modera Decatur development on the Bank of America property on the block between Clairemont Avenue, Commerce Drive and Church Street is in progress and will add 194 apartments as well as 24,500 square feet of retail space.

Thanks to some very hard work and flexibility by city staff and residents, Decatur was able to complete its 10-year strategic plan update on schedule, and expressed a renewed community commitment to diversity and inclusion, Garrett concluded.

“I think this plan speaks volumes about the direction the city will take over the next 10 years, with genuine commitment to racial equity and inclusion surrounding every decision. And the consideration of climate action strategies as we seek to meet goals set forward for economic growth, civic trust, affordable housing and mobility,” she said. “In Decatur, everything is connected and this vision for the city states that Decatur will foster an equitable, thriving and welcoming community for all today and in the future.”

In her remarks, School Board Chair Johnson-Davis emphasized the school district’s ongoing work on diversity and inclusion.

“City Schools of Decatur was proud to work with a community-based committee last year to evaluate the current senior homestead exemption and propose two new age-based exemptions with the help of [city] commissioners and our legislative delegation,” Johnson-Davis said. “We were able to get the exemptions on the November ballot and they were approved by the citizens of Decatur.”

The revised exemptions will make it easier for older residents to remain in the city, she said.

As of the beginning of this school year, all CSD staff and teachers have completed the Courageous Conversations training, which involved a series of sessions that supported honest and open dialogue about racial and academic disparities, she said.

This spring, the district will be providing anti-racism instruction to students in grades 6 -12 at Renfroe Middle School and Decatur High School through a curriculum that discusses the history of race and difference, helps the students examine their comfort with talking about issues of race and difference and explore ways to combat discrimination, micro-aggressions and cyberbullying, she said.

CSD has expanded its formation of racial affinity groups to support groups of students and staff from historically marginalized groups.

“Research shows that racial affinity groups help employers attract more diverse candidates, reduce turnover and increase employee morale,” she explained. “CSD has now added additional affinity groups for Asian staff, black male staff and administrators of color.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committees at the individual schools are continuing to offer workshops, events and outreach to students.

“Over the summer, Renfroe’s Individuals and Societies teachers worked with professors at Agnes Scott College, the Georgia state archives, and Kennesaw University to decolonize our Individuals and Societies curriculum,” Johnson-Davis said.

The district has implemented a hiring tool that helps ensure equity in hiring decisions, and is working on a compensation study to ensure that the district can attract and retain highly qualified educators.

The district recently transitioned to a new fiber optics network and began implementing a one-to-one device policy to support virtual learning, when needed, across the district.

The district implemented new intensive learning support programs for summer and winter break periods to help students who need extra support and added 11 new intervention teachers at the school level to help students identified as having specific learning needs, she said.

This year, the district launched the Decatur Virtual Learning Academy which offers remote instruction to 160 city students in grades K – 12.

In 2021, Oakhurst Elementary School was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School and Clairemont Elementary was recognized as a Distinguished Title 1 Scholar school by the U.S. Department of Education. The graduation rate at Decatur High School has now reached 96.73 percent, she said.

“In spite of the challenges of this year, CSD continues to thrive and our students continue to excel,” Johnson-Davis concluded. “So, where do we go from here? As my response, I will offer a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘We must welcome the days ahead with audacious faith in the future.’ I’m excited about the future of the CSD and the great things that it will bring for our students and community.”

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