DECATUR—For 10 years, Margaret Price has lived in the Forrest Heights community in South DeKalb. She remembers when the Forrest Heights Apartments, just across the street from where she lives, became a dilapidated complex where drug dealers and drug labs were the order of the day. Now, the apartments are gone and construction crews and cranes are at work at the five-acre site. It’s a welcome sight to Price and others who live in the neighborhood, located near Forrest Boulevard and Columbia Drive.
The former apartment complex, which was demolished in January, will soon become a vibrant place for active seniors ages 55 and older seeking affordable housing. Officials say the first phase of the Forrest Heights Senior Residences is expected to be completed within 14 months.
“Right across the street from my house, you used to hear gunfire everyday. Then after the apartment owners gave up on the property, the drug deals got worse. One Thanksgiving, I’ll never forget: Somebody who had a meth lab in one of the abandoned apartments blew away nearly half a building,” said Price, a professor at Spelman College who serves on the Forrest Hills Neighborhood Association.
Price joined a dozen government officials and several community residents at the Oct. 9 groundbreaking for the project. County officials welcomed representatives of Columbia Residential, which is building Forrest Heights Senior Residences. Columbia Residential specializes in senior housing.
DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson, who represents South DeKalb’s District 3 where the revitalization project is under way, is excited about the private-public partnership to help seniors. DeKalb has the second-largest senior population in Georgia with 62,228 seniors ages 65, according to the U.S. Census. Fulton County leads with a graying population of 83,424 seniors.
The trend is one that has been growing in the last decade. In DeKalb, the number of adults ages 45 to 64 jumped from 37,703 to 169,035 from 2000 to 2010, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). The senior population, ages 65 and older in the region, which includes Atlanta and its 10 surrounding counties, is estimated to reach 107,762 by 2015, up from 53,881 in 2000. By 2030, one in five Atlantans will be age 60 or older.
“This new community is part of what I call the ‘Renaissance’ of District 3. Columbia Residential has a great reputation for quality developments and we are looking forward to the day the project is completed,” said Commissioner Johnson. “Our seniors deserve the best. This is all about them. As we move forward in DeKalb, we want to provide all the resources we can to keep our seniors vibrant.”
One place filled with vibrant seniors, The Lou Walker Senior Center on Panola Road in unincorporated Lithonia, opened in 2006. Since then, the center has served more than 500 seniors daily and maintained an annual roster of more than 3,500 active seniors ages 55 and older at the 40,000-square-foot facility.
One active senior, Beverley Brown of Lithonia, says she loves the center and has been a member since its opening.
“I’ve made some great friends here and learned from some really good teachers,” said Brown, 63, who participates in a number of activities at the center, such as the art club and the sculpture club. “I know this center puts life back into people. All the activity and social life with other seniors adds years to your life.”
A personal project of Commissioner Johnson, DeKalb County’s Exchange Park intergenerational Center in 2011. Since then, Johnson has hosted a several events there including his “Let’s Move” health initiative, workshops and back-to-school rallies at the 30,000-square-foot facility.
With so many of Georgia’s seniors living in DeKalb, Johnson says it’s critical to build for future generations.
Johnson cited “We have a new Walmart, a new SunTrust bank. We have Aldi’s and the Kroger on Belvedere is working on redeveloping their store; we even have some of the top jazz artists in the world living here. We are rich in District 3 with talents, abilities and gifts. We are rebuilding this community and my seniors are engaging everyone to get on board,” said Johnson. “We want a nice, clean and thriving community. We have about $25 million of investment on streetscapes alone along Memorial Drive and a Linear Park, which will feature a great playground. I’m excited. The renaissance is happening in our area. We want to keep brining in projects that are sustainable, walk able and will keep our seniors active. It’s all about us progressing together. You can see the energy, you can feel what I call our revitalization as we move forward.”
Johnson says the new Forrest Heights community, located at 1004 Columbia Drive in Decatur, will include 70 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom apartments for seniors. Through a partnership with the Housing Authority of DeKalb County, seniors will have affordable options based on income and a sliding scale at Forrest Heights. To promote sustainability and energy efficiency, all units are designed and certified with the EarthCraft designation, and the entire development of the site will be a certified EarthCraft Community.
Forrest Heights Senior Residences will include a community garden, a recycling program, walking paths and access to MARTA.