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Conservation, Affordable Housing and Community Gardens

Athens Land Trust, Georgia

Athens Land TrustAthens Land Trust in Athens, Georgia, faces the challenge of being in the smallest county in the state, where land use decisions are always a major issue. The small group addresses these community needs with a unique dual mission of land conservation and affordable housing.

“Our approach to land use is very holistic,” says Emerita Director Nancy Stangle. “We see land as a community resource, and we promote wise land use decisions that improve quality of life for the whole community. It’s important that the community know who we are and what we do.”

Promoting Quality of Life

Athens Land Trust may have a dual mission, but their work can be categorized in three ways. It has four full-time and seven part-time staff members who work on conservation, affordable housing and community gardens. But projects can often contain elements of all three. The trust articulates what it does this way: “To promote quality of life through integration of community and the natural environment by preserving land, creating energy-efficient and affordable housing, and revitalizing neighborhoods.” As both a community land trust and conservation land trust, it provides effective tools to protect different types of land in its area.

Athens Land Trust has protected nearly 3,000 acres of forests, wetlands, working farmland, county parkland and neighborhood open space in four Georgia counties, has 149 affordable housing units, and has helped establish over 30 school and community gardens.

Affordable Housing

Athens Land Trust has helped to revitalize the historically African-American neighborhoods near the University of Georgia in downtown Athens, where many low- to moderate-income families have experienced pressure from gentrification. The effort has preserved affordable housing and cultural heritage in these communities, and kept them green at the same time.

With support from funders such as the Fund for Southern Communities, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation and Athens-Clarke County, Athens Land Trust works to increase the amount of open space, parks and community gardens in the neighborhoods. This broad support demonstrates how being involved in different aspects of their community has widened the organization’s access to a variety of funding sources.

Another project, Fourth Street Village, is an apartment community for 120 families. Directly across from Howard B. Stroud Elementary School, it has a 9-acre tract zoned for multi-family housing. Fourth Street Village is located along the bus line and is close to a grocery store, pharmacy and other desirable amenities.

Fourth Street Village provides rental housing for 96 low-income families making 50% of Area Median Income or below. ALT and its partner, Ambling Development, received financing from PNC Multifamily Capital and from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

There are many supportive services for residents, such as employment programs, homeownership counseling, resident involvement in decision-making, a safety program and tenant counseling. Ongoing activities are computer classes, financial management seminars, and residents’ association meetings. These services are administered by ALT and Ambling Management in partnership with many local agencies and businesses.

Community Gardening

Heather Benham, director of operations, calls attention to the garden work:

“We’ve found that our community garden program is a wonderful tool for providing access to land and environmental education in urban settings. It has been great to see how excited the kids are about growing vegetables; we hope that these experiences will instill in them a lifelong love and appreciation of the land.”

But it’s not only children who benefit from the community gardens. Athena Gardens is a retirement community where several raised beds have been established with the help of US Lawns and many volunteers. Food is already being grown there to be used in the cafeteria on the site. Deborah Colella, property manager of Athena Gardens, thanked Athens Land Trust on behalf of United Church Homes, whose residents use the garden: “Your generosity has enabled our community to establish a lifetime of abundant, healthy gardening. The ability to interact monthly with other community gardens has been insightful and delightful. We have gathered as a community to share knowledge, stories and smiles.”

Athena Gardens is one of several community gardens to develop from a 3-year, $287,690 grant from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, given to Athens Land Trust in 2010 to establish a network of community gardens in Athens. The overarching goal of the Athens community garden initiative is to provide healthy, nutritious food for low-income families (including children, the elderly and minority populations) by providing opportunities to grow their own food. ALT was one of just 27 organizations throughout the country selected to receive a grant as part of NIFA’s Community Food Projects program, which funds projects that build community food systems and fight hunger and food insecurity.

Athens Land Trust’s economically and racially diverse board of directors plays a large part in the organization’s success:

  • One-third of the board is made up of Athens Land Trust homeowners
  • One-third are conservation experts
  • One-third are architects, land planners, attorneys or developers

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Writer: Francesca Dalleo
Editors: Sheila McGrory-Klyza and Christina Soto
Photo: Courtesy of Athens Land Trust

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