In 1936, Techwood Homes became the first-ever public housing project in the Nation. It was located northwest of Downtown, between the Coca-Cola headquarters and Georgia Tech’s campus. Its construction replaced a de facto integrated low-income neighborhood known as Tanyard Creek. At the time of its opening, Techwood Homes was established as a “whites only” complex. It would remain this way until white flight infringed on the city after integration was brought on by the civil rights movement. Over the years, federal funding was not properly allocated toward housing projects such as Techwood. As a result, the neighborhood became a blight to the city with failed revitalizations, high crime, and high poverty rates. In 1990, it was announced that the Summer Olympics would be hosted in Atlanta, and thus began the revitalization of poor neighborhoods such as Techwood Homes. Sixty years after its creation, Techwood Homes would be demolished and replaced by a mixed-income housing project called Centennial Place which still stands today. The initial development and then redevelopment of Techwood Homes are both terribly similar as both times business and political leaders sought to replace a blighted neighborhood and, in the process, ended up disproportionately harming some of the city’s most vulnerable communities.
Before the construction of Techwood Homes, what was known as Tanyard Creek stood in its place. In the 1880s, Tanyard Creek was a racially mixed but primarily African American shantytown that was home to mostly laborers and low-income workers from nearby manufacturing or warehouse districts. Property owners built cheap shacks and two-story shanties that were within close quarters of an open sewer and a tannery. 2 The neighborhood was considered a slum through its unsafe and unsanitary conditions where concentrations of poverty existed. Tanyard Creek was one of the many Atlanta neighborhoods where conditions were overcrowded, as it was common for whole families to share one room. High rates of crime, death, infant mortality, or disease were also common. By the 1920s, the city saw Tanyard Creek as an “eyesore” blocking the value of central business properties.
However, real estate agent Charles Palmer saw neighborhoods such as Tanyard Creek as advantageous sites for redevelopment due to how their clearance could benefit nearby institutions and landlords through increased property values.3 In light of President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s New Deal program for slum clearance, Palmer would go on to assume the lead role in demolishing these Atlanta neighborhoods and replacing them with public housing projects. Tanyard Creek would be the first one demolished.
New Deal Slum Clearance and Charles Palmer
Public Housing in America was sought out during the Great Depression through President Roosevelt’s New Deal which included measures for affordable public housing for the working poor. It was during this time that cities saw increases in slums due to a job shortage and large stock of inadequate housing. New Deal policies centered around providing adequate housing to the “deserving poor” which was defined as those who had good character and stable family lives but lived in slum conditions.5 Under Roosevelt, Congress created the United States Housing Authority which allocated $800 million dollars toward slum clearance and providing safe and sanitary dwellings for American Families. 6 Charles Palmer, a prominent real estate agent, and wealthy Atlanta businessman saw this government program as a way to use federal money to eliminate shanty towns and replace them with more adequate housing. This was in part self-interested as it would also boost the property values of the business district where Palmer owned three major office buildings.7
In 1932, Palmer began reaching out to powerful figures within the community and formed a group of Atlantans advocating for the replacement of Tanyard Creek. Palmer rallied leaders Dr. Marion L. Brittain, the President of Georgia Tech, James L. Key, the mayor of Atlanta, and Herbert E. Choate, the president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Together, they developed a proposal that would allocate over two million dollars in low-interest federal loans to clean out “eight blocks of the worse slum area in the city” and create Techwood Homes as the first-ever federally funded housing project 8 Of course, before this could be approved, it came with backlash from city officials. One was Georgia Governor and segregationalist Eugene Talmadge who argued that slums were beneficial and “make people stronger”. 9 However, the more pressing concern for Talmadge was the fear that growing federal power could threaten state governments and undermind Jim Crow Laws. Nevertheless, this fear was never breached as Techwood Homes became a prime example of how public housing would serve the advancement of segregation.
The Opening of Techwood Homes
In 1936, Techwood Homes saw its first residents and transformed a de facto integrated area into an all-white neighborhood. This was due to the national policy that designated all public housing to be segregated. Atlanta city directories reveal the many Black families who lived in and around the area sectioned off for Techwood’s construction. The destruction of Tanyard Creek and the recreation of an all-white housing project in its place was a conscious decision made by the city to cater to the neighboring white business elites and the prestigious all-white University of Georgia Tech. Part of the project even included the creation of new dormitories for Georgia Tech students. 11 In the end, the construction of Techwood Homes demolished nine blocks of African-American slum housing to house over 600 white families.12
Shortly after the plans of development for Techwood, John Hope and other Black business elites would work with Palmer to clear a slum near Atlanta University. This made way for University Homes which would be designated as public housing for Black Atlantans. 13 University Homes opened in 1937 not long after Techwood. Some former residents of Tanyard Creek would find homes there, but many were displaced completely. This was due to how former residents could not afford to go back to their previous homes or were not allowed back. Public housing units were designed for the “deserving poor” who could meet income qualifiers, and this was not feasible for many former residents. 14
Ultimately, these public housing units were only attainable for aspiring middle people. They were designed for those who could be seen as upwardly mobile. This would cause very poor, and majority Black, Atlantans to move to other slums in the peripheries of the city further away from municipalities. Public housing initiatives would greatly change Atlanta’s racial geography as it furthered segregation and pushed very poor populations from accessing downtown. Even so, Techwood Homes would go on to set the standard for public housing as it was the first one and deemed a success. It led to the passage of the United States Housing Act of 1937 which provided federal subsidies from the U.S. government to local public housing agencies on grounds of improving the living conditions for low-income families.
Integration and Decline
In wake of the civil rights movement, the racial geographies within the city of Atlanta transitioned rapidly. The Civil Rights Act, which ended segregation, passed in 1964, and within 6 years, over half of the established “whites only” Techwood Homes’ residents were now Black. This shift in the racial population was alarming to nearby white business elites. Paul Austin, who was the chief executive of Coca-Cola, especially raised concerns as Techwood neighbored the Coca-Cola headquarters. With this perceived threat, Austin proposed that the city demolished the communities and redeveloped the property to accommodate mixed-income complexes.17 His proposal almost passed until Maynard Jackson, the first Black Mayor of Atlanta, was elected into office and suspended the plan due to the amount of public backlash his administration would receive if he went through with it. 18
Over time public housing faded out completely, and projects like Techwood homes become run down and underfunded. The neighborhood became a “place you would not drive through” because it was “such a distressed and troubled and violent neighborhood that you avoided it”. 19 Tenants of Techwood began urging for better housing solutions all while business leaders were lobbying for the demolition of the complex. The Atlanta Constitution’s 1981 article written by Faye Goolrick titled “Who Wants Techwood” further reveals this. Goolrick wrote “businessmen want the land, the city wants improvements, the tenants want a home. For the nation’s oldest public housing project, the time for fixing up–or tearing down–has come”. 20 Ultimately, despite its now run-down appearance, Techwood Homes sat on valuable property within the city. Because of this, the city needed to decide whether they were going to fix the homes or tear them down.
Centennial Place Apartments
By 1990, the conditions of Techwood had become miserable. The Washington Post described it as “a dangerous, rundown public-housing project infested with crack dealers, afflicted with bad plumbing and home to 1,200 residents trapped in poverty.” 21 Once the city won the Olympic Bid in 1990 and was therefore expecting a lot of visitors in the area, it was finally decided that Techwood Homes had to go. The 1996 Summer Olympics would serve as the catalyst for the end of Techwood Homes and see that Paul Austin’s plan went through.
In preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games and considering the many visitors who be coming to the city for this event, Atlanta began cleaning up neighborhoods and renovating. The result of this renovation was the destruction of a lot of affordable housing units such as Techwood Homes. They were replaced by either newer, “mixed-income” housing or urban renewal projects like stadiums. 23 Techwood specifically was designated to be demolished and replaced with a “mixed-income” apartment complex called Centennial Place Apartment Homes.
The deconstruction of Techwood was eerily like that of Tanyard Creek, as both projects left a lot of people, who were overwhelmingly African American, displaced. Former residents of Techwood Homes were supposed to be given vouchers that would allow them to move back after the reconstruction of Centennial Place, but the majority of residents did not actually receive these vouchers or were not allowed back at all. 24 This was because, by design, Centennial Place only reserved less than 40% of its units for affordable housing. There would never have been enough room within the new complex for all the old residents to return. 25.
Centennial Place Apartment Homes still stands today where the shanties of Tanyard Creek once existed. While there is nothing physically left to remind us of Tanyard Creek, the Techwood Homes Historic District building remains vacant next to the leasing office of Centennial Place and across from Georgia Tech’s North Avenue dormitories.
First image: Tanyard Bottom or Techwood Flats, Atlanta Georgia. Image from Wikimedia Commons,https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/Techwood_Flats.jpeg (accessed April 11, 2022)
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. 1899. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Sanborn Maps Collection. ↩
- Keating L. and Flores, “Sixty and Out.” Journal of Urban History, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2000): 277. ↩
- Ruechel, Frank. “New Deal Public Housing, Urban Poverty, and Jim Crow: Techwood and University Homes in Atlanta.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 4 (1997): 921. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40550189. ↩
- Charles F. Palmer, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negative. ↩
- Hankins, K., M. Puckett, D. Oakley, and E. Ruel, “From ‘free-market’ slums to public housing and back again: The politics of relocating Atlanta’s poor” in Miraftab, F., D. Wilson, and K. Salo, eds., Cities and Inequalities in a Global and Neoliberal World. Routledge, 2015, 54-55. ↩
- Atlanta Housing Authority Annual Report. 1939. Atlanta, GA ↩
- Keating L. and Flores, Sixty and Out, 276-277 ↩
- Vale, Lawrence J, “Public Housing and Private Initiative: Developing Atlanta’s Techwood and Clark Howell Homes” In Purging the Poorest: Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013, 38-39. ↩
- Ruechel, Frank. “New Deal Public Housing, Urban Poverty, and Jim Crow: Techwood and University Homes in Atlanta.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 81, no. 4 (1997): 928. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40550189. ↩
- Lovejoy Street between Powers, Alexander, and Mills. Atlanta City Directory, 1919 ↩
- Frank, New Deal Public Housing, Urban Poverty, and Jim Crow, 922 ↩
- Hankins et al., “From ‘free-market’ slums”, 57. ↩
- Hankins et al., “From ‘free-market’ slums”, 56-57. ↩
- Holliman, Irene V. “Techwood Homes .” New Georgia Encyclopedia. University of Georgia Press, June 20, 2008. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/techwood-homes/. ↩
- Atlanta Housing Authority. “First Public Housing in the United States: Rebuilding Atlanta.” 1938. Map. The Barry Lawrence Ruderman Map Collection Courtesy Stanford University Libraries. ↩
- Goolrick, Faye H. “Who Wants Techwood?: Businessmen want the land, the city wants …”
Atlanta Constitution, March 15, 1981, G18. ↩
- Holliman, “Techwood Homes”, 2008. ↩
- Keating and Flores, “Sixty and Out”, 285. ↩
- Stephannie Stokes, “The ’96 Olympics: Techwood and the New Face of Public Housing.” WABE, January 19, 2018. https://www.wabe.org/96-olympics-techwood-and-new-face-public-housing/. ↩
- Stokes, “The ’96 Olympics: Techwood and the New Face of Public Housing”, 2018 ↩
- Laura Parker, “Neighboring Housing Project Tarnishes Atlanta’s Dream Site for Olympic Gold.” The Washington Post. WP Company, July 7, 1991. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1991/07/07/neighboring-housing-project-tarnishes-atlantas-dream-site-for-olympic-gold/46b177e2-6544-41d7-95c8-bacabc775aa1/. ↩
- Excavator demolishing Techwood Homes, Atlanta, Georgia, November 17, 1993. Atlanta Journal Constitution Photographic Archives. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library. ↩
- Newman, Harvey K. “Neighborhood Impacts of Atlanta’s Olympic Games.” Community Development Journal 34, no. 2 (1999): 151–59. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44257467. ↩
- Seth Gustafson, “Displacement and the Racial State in Olympic Atlanta: 1990–1996.” Southeastern Geographer 53, no. 2 (2013): 198–213. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26229061. ↩
- Stokes, “The ’96 Olympics: Techwood and the New Face of Public Housing”, 2018 ↩