Students, residents affected by DeKalb school district purchase share story
More than 100 families who live in the Shallowford Gardens apartment complex—located at 3630 Shallowford Road in Doraville—will be forced to find new homes by Aug. 31 following the $8.2 million purchase of the property by DeKalb County School District (DCSD).
According to a statement from DCSD on June 13, the property will be redeveloped for a 900-seat Cross Keys cluster elementary school to alleviate overcrowding at Cary Reynolds and Dresden elementary schools.
Lease holders were informed at a public meeting held at First Baptist Church of Doraville on June 14 that they will receive a $2,250 incentive to move. At the meeting, former owner and seller John Lantz said legal action would be taken if tenants do not find lodging elsewhere.
“Two and a half months is more than adequate,” Lantz said.
At the meeting, DCSD director of planning Dan Drake said the school district considered more than a dozen other sites for the future Doraville elementary school. Drake did not name other properties considered.
According to residents of Shallowford Gardens—many of whom have been there for more than a decade—say the process is unjust.
The complex, which primarily serves low-income and non-English speaking residents and is located near the Doraville MARTA station, has been home for Chamblee High School student Julie Thach’s family for more than 16 years.
Thach said a new school in the area will be beneficial to the community but she does not agree with displacing other people, especially neighbors she knows personally.
“I’m still learning how to accept that my home is being torn down,” Thach said. “I know a lot of my friends here. A lot of them speak up for the community. There are plenty of other buildings around here.”
Thach said she has yet to consider how she will get to work—she currently walks—or how she will adapt to a new neighborhood. She said the available financial incentives are not adequate to move her entire family of five and keep them together.
“It doesn’t matter even if you were to give $5,000 per family—it’s still not enough to move five people at once,” Thach said. “Many of the people living here have big families, are low-income and are tight on a budget. Some have five people or more living in one apartment.”
Thach said said other families at Shallowford Gardens are in more dire situations.
Resident and recent DCSD graduate Brandon Gremajo said he, too, would have preferred to have a say in the school property selection process. Grenajo heard rumors about the purchase through Shallowford Gardens’ maintenance man. A week before the news went public, like more than 100 others, his family received a letter informing them of the purchase.
This was the only indication his family received.
“I was in disbelief,” Grenajo said. “I’ve lived here all my life. Some of the greatest memories I’ve had have been here. I have lifelong friends and people to talk to here. One of my friends [whom I met playing soccer here] is playing for the El Salvador national team. Through the apartment I’ve met some of the greatest people.”
Grenajo can remember growing up playing soccer with other neighborhood kids and his cousins, all of whom attended Cary Reynolds Elementary, Sequoyah Middle and Cross Keys or Chamblee High. He said he had hoped his brothers, 13 and 6 years old, would have a similar childhood experience.
“My little brother liked to talk about moving and living in a real big house,” Grenajo said. “He didn’t realize he’d have to change schools. When I told him we would have to change schools, he said he wants to stay. It will be awkward; we’ve spent our entire lives just a few houses away from each other. We can visit each other just by walking.”
Grenajo, Thach and other residents say affordable housing options in the area are limited and that they worry about where they will go after leaving Shallowford Gardens. According to residents, a two-bedroom apartment at Shallowford Gardens averages at $715 per month.
Thach and Grenajo said they would have liked to have voiced their opinion on the purchase to Lantz and district officials before it was finalized. Former resident Estefany Ramirez said she had hoped Lantz would be more understanding when meeting with residents, but called his demeanor at the June 14 “non-chalant.”
At the meeting, Lantz said he did not feel comfortable informing residents about the purchase until a deal was finalized with the school district. He said conversations have been taking place for months.
“Maybe they should have gotten a consensus from residents who have lived here for a long time,” Grenajo said.
“I would have been open to the idea if meetings [had taken] place,” Thach said. “I give out my opinion as much as I can. There are many community activists who live here who speak up for the community.”
Grenajo said he understands why the purchase was made but cannot understand why residents were not met with early on in the process.
“I know why we’re here, how we got here,” Grenajo said. “But this is the biggest part of our lives. This is where we spent the entirety of our childhoods.”
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