Ernestine Harris lives in a modest one-story home on Gresham Avenue in Brownwood Park. It’s where she and her late husband, George, moved to in 1975. Now, at 68, she sits at the top of the driveway in a wooden chair most days, waving to neighbors and folks passing by.
She’s celebrated 4 kids, 11 grandkids and 4 great grandchildren in this house. But when her husband died four years ago, the bank came for her home.
Mrs. Harris was too young to be on the mortgage when she and George bought the house. After her husband passed, Mrs. Harris said the bank gave her 30 days to vacate the property. She said they refused to take her mortgage payments.
For the bank, this was an attractive location in fast gentrifying Atlanta. Citywide, 31,678 black residents left between 2000 and 2010, while 22,763 white residents moved in. Brownwood Park home values continue to rise — up 54% in 10 years. The number of residents with bachelor degrees more than doubled between 2000 to 2010.
Experts use this Census data to examine how communities shift. Capital improvement, fair market value, and sales comparison become part of a formula that determines which neighborhoods are “desirable.” For the financial institutions, people and communities are the sum of the economic factors that drive the market.
Memories of George are not part of that equation. They fill every room. This isn’t her house, it’s her home. Her first home. The bank sees the type of wood used for the floorboards. Mrs. Harris sees her daughter’s first steps on that floor. Mrs. Harris fought the bank with LegalAid’s help, and won.
Brownwood Park is changing. Mrs. Harris remains.