1935 Techwood Homes became the first public housing project built in the United States. The federally subsidized housing,
located immediately northwest of downtown Atlanta and sandwiched in between the Coca-Cola Company's headquarters and the Georgia Institute of Technology's campus, replaced a fourteen-block slum area known as Techwood Flats. Residents of the Flats lived in cheap rental housing
that dated back to the 1880s, and they labored either in the nearby manufacturing and warehousing district on the west side
of Atlanta or for low wages downtown. Even before the Great Depression hit, impoverished residents of the Flats endured overcrowded, unsafe, and unsanitary housing conditions.
Conception and Construction
In 1933 Atlanta real estate developer Charles F. Palmer drove through Techwood Flats on his way
to work and saw conditions deteriorating. Learning of the limited dividend housing project created under the administration
of U.S. president Herbert Hoover, Palmer organized a group of Atlantans concerned about poor living conditions in the city.
Together, believing that the federal government could give the poor of Atlanta a decent place to live, while reducing crime
and disease, they wrote a proposal requesting $2,375,000 in federal funding for slum clearance and housing construction. In
addition, Palmer's buildings in downtown Atlanta represented the largest block of privately held commercial real estate in
the South; improving the area would boost his property values and promote further business expansion.
Shortly after U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, authorization for federally subsidized housing shifted to the new Public Works Administration. The Techwood
project proposal won approval in October 1933. Slum clearance promised construction employment for nearly 2,000 men. The project
proceeded slowly in 1934. Local landlords in particular feared unfair competition from the federal government, and federal
money, caught up in bureaucratic red tape, was slow to arrive. Site acquisition and clearance took place that summer, and
groundbreaking for the new Techwood Homes commenced in September 1934. Fourteen months later, President Roosevelt visited
Techwood and switched on the electricity to dedicate the first public housing project.
A Model Community
moved into the modified Georgian buildings in August 1936. The project blueprints reflected housing reform concerns for health,
safety, and reasonable comfort. Local architect Flip Burge (of Burge and Stevens) designed fireproof brick buildings on concrete slab foundations. Rent included heat, electricity, and water, and the units
had the latest electric appliances, as well as closets in each room. Two-story row houses and three-story garden apartments
covered less than one quarter of the twenty-two-acre grounds. On the remaining property, residents enjoyed lush landscaping,
playgrounds, park benches, and open space, and they had easy access to an administration building, six stores, recreational
facilities, and a health clinic. Techwood Homes became a source of pride for its new residents, as well as the model studied
and observed by sociologists, housing experts, and architects.
Techwood Homes did provide affordable, clean, modern living for 604 white families, its construction also meant the clearance
of the Flats, which displaced 1,611 families. Twenty-eight percent of the Flats community had been African American, and because
public housing was segregated by national policy, only white residents were permitted in Techwood Homes. Some quickly found
refuge in the all-black University Homes public housing project on the west side of Atlanta, but many African Americans from
the Flats were never rehoused. Furthermore, income qualifiers for public housing meant that many former Flats inhabitants,
white and black, were too poor for public housing.
Nonetheless, Techwood Homes set the standard for public housing, and its success led to congressional passage of the Housing
Act of 1937, which permanently established a federally sponsored low-rent housing program.
Integration and Decline
Homes remained an all-white housing project until 1968. Racial transition occurred rapidly in the wake of the civil rights movement; the complex was 50 percent black within six years of integration. From their nearby headquarters, Coca-Cola executives feared
that crime would rise when Techwood became an all-black project. In 1974 Paul Austin, Coca-Cola's chief executive officer,
proposed clearing Techwood, relocating its residents to the outskirts of the city, and replacing the property with moderate-income
housing and shopping. Newly elected Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson shelved the plan, fearing backlash from the African American community. Instead, Jackson garnered federal money throughout
his tenure in office to renovate the Techwood structures, but this did little to stave off the drug epidemic that plagued
the public housing community in the 1980s. By the early 1990s Atlanta officials were unable to combat the chronic drug trafficking
and gang violence at Techwood.
Ironically, the city revisited the Coca-Cola redevelopment plan for Techwood twenty-five years after it was proposed. After
winning the Centennial Olympic Games bid in 1990, city leaders worried about what international guests and athletes would
think about the high crime and poverty at Techwood Homes. The mayor's office, working with the Atlanta Housing Authority,
Georgia Tech, and the city's Olympic committee, created the Olympic Village Community Redevelopment District. The plan, which
called for the redevelopment of Techwood Homes into housing for athletes, converted the 1,195 units of low-income housing
into 800 luxury units for mixed-income residents. Most of the original buildings were razed. Many Techwood residents, wishing
to remain in their homes, felt powerless to challenge the plan.
After the 1996 Olympics ended, only seventy-eight of the original Techwood Homes residents returned to live at the newly renovated site, which was
renamed Centennial Place.
Ronald H. Bayor, Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
Florence Fleming Corley, "Atlanta's Techwood and University Homes Projects: The Nation's Laboratory for Public Housing," Atlanta History (winter 1987-88): 17-36.
Larry Keating, Atlanta: Race, Class, and Urban Expansion (Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 2001).
Larry Keating and Carol A. Flores, "Sixty and Out: Techwood Homes Transformed by Enemies and Friends," Journal of Urban History 26 (March 2000): 275-311.
Frank Ruechel, "New Deal Public Housing, Urban Poverty, and Jim Crow: Techwood and University Homes in Atlanta," Georgia Historical Quarterly 81 (winter 1997): 915-37.
Irene V. Holliman, University of Georgia