In 1974 Decatur was chosen as a pilot city to participate in a new federal program enacted to revitalize blighted neighborhoods. The program stemmed from a relatively simple idea: selling foreclosed homes for a dollar.
Local historian David Rotenstein said, at that time, many homes in south Decatur were falling into disrepair because some who moved into the newly gentrified area were unprepared for home ownership.
“The program was intended to bring a new set of homeowners into the community and the skills and resources to improve their houses and their community,” Rotenstein said. “The following year Decatur sold 113 of the houses.”
Rotenstein said one of the main reasons some neighborhoods in south Decatur had fallen into disrepair during the 1960s and early 1970s was because prior to 1966, the area known today as Oakhurst was undergoing rapid gentrification.
By the mid-1970s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was south Decatur’s largest residential property owner and property manager. Titles to more than 100 vacant homes in HUD’s portfolio were transferred to the Decatur Housing Authority and 113 of those homes were sold to new owners for a dollar.
Urban homesteading was authorized under the same legislation that created community development block grants. Together, these two acts enabled the rehabilitation of residential properties throughout south Decatur and improvements to McKoy and Oakhurst parks.
Additionally, the homesteading act and community development grants enabled the area’s first streetscape improvement project to take place in the newly rebranded Oakhurst business district. Now the area looks much different and Rotenstein said many of the dollar homes have disappeared to make way for new houses.
“The program was more successful in Decatur than it was in other cities,” Rotenstein said. “However, many of these older homes are now being torn down to make way for newer homes being built by younger people moving into the area.”