Churches forming the Vine City Health And Housing Ministry
By 1986, the city of Atlanta had approved the building plan for The Georgia Dome. Six years later "The Dome" would become The Georgia Dome, one of the largest covered stadiums in the world. It was built next to Northside Drive, the eastern boundary of Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods. Since the late 1960s, the neighborhoods had declined from an economically and politically active black center to becoming a focal point for public housing and low economic living standards by the mid 1980s. While the construction of The Dome was a source of exuberance for many, in the neighboring areas, renowned for their poverty and high crime rates, critical voices of concern were rising, addressing the question of how the building of The Dome would affect them. In response to these concerns, the reverends from eight local churches came together to form a joint ministry to express a shared voice for the community, thus forming Vine City Housing Ministry (VCHM). The formation of the Ministry marked a moment of crystallization among the spiritual leaders of the area.
The Vine City Housing Ministry sat across the negotiation table with the Dome ownership and the City of Atlanta, who were committed to the construction of the stadium as well as community investment. The eight reverends wanted a voice in determining how much would be invested in development, and how the money would be earmarked and distributed. The arduous negotiations culminated in the VCHM receiving guarantees for a fund that would start with a cache of money and be financed annually by the City of Atlanta's hotel/motel tax. The negotiation concluded with the creation of The Georgia Dome Trust Fund, equipped with $8 000 000 dollars, and placed under Invest Atlanta, Atlanta's Development Authority. What remained unclear was who would hold the purse-strings and the process of distribution.
The neighborhoods were clearly in need for infrastructural improvements, especially housing. In addition, the VCHM recognized high unemployment in the areas as a major problem. Their negotiations with the Georgia Dome Trust Fund resulted in ensuring that the local workforce filled at least 200 jobs. While this was much hailed by the local residents, it soon became evident that many of the people hired were struggling to maintain their jobs. Reverend Cottrell, the president of VCHM, claims this was the inevitable consequence of a plethora of social problems that had come to characterize the area: "people were on drugs, they couldn't keep their jobs."
This realization, Rev. Cottrell tells, led the Vine City Housing Ministry expand its scope, and incorporate a more socially-oriented approach to community development. Cottrell explains the history leading to this shift: "we built houses. But who's going to buy them? We got people jobs but they couldn't keep 'em." This prompted Cottrell to clarify the new direction: "We discovered a long time ago...we got to have people who are able, healthy." The title of the Vine City Housing Ministry was changed to include the word health, indicating that the renovation of the area may have started with physical infrastructure, but that was incomplete without addressing the mental and spiritual needs of people in the community. The Vine City Housing Ministry thus became the Vine City Health and Housing Ministry. This mission was integrated in the vision of the churches: "The best health centers for black folks are black churches", he claimed.
Clemetson, R. & Coats, R. (1997) Restoring Broken Places and Rebuilding Communities. Self-published.
Cottrell, R. (2013) Interview with Coulis and Kauko