A message from Melanie & David Couchman, Founders of Sandy Springs Together
We are not experts in the field of housing; but we have spent the last couple of years trying to understand the complexities and issues of housing and its importance to families and communities. We’ve also worked to understand the far-reaching impact housing has on almost all aspects of a person’s and a community’s life.
For us, this is an apolitical issue.
In our pursuit, we have met many experts, traveled to learn from other cities, and participated with several organizations like the Urban Land Institute, Federal Reserve Bank, the Atlanta Regional Commission and others.
But the most important organization that we worked with is our own City government and our Mayor. We started our journey with discussions with Mayor Rusty Paul more than 3 years ago. We were impressed with his depth of understanding and knowledge in this field. The Mayor’s knowledge goes back at least to when he served as Assistant Secretary of HUD, under Secretary of Housing Jack Kemp in the administration of President George H. W. Bush.
We met with others and kept Mayor Paul updated every 4 to 8 weeks on the applicability of what we learned. We started a citizens’ initiative with his support and with his suggestions for other interested people who had similar interest. Our Councilman, Ken Dishman, was an advisor to this group and attended our meetings. We sponsored “field trips” for community leaders to visit other sites and we always kept Mayor Paul informed of what we learned.
As we continued, our pursuit of knowledge became deeper and more informed.
In Summer 2017 we felt that we had gone as far as we could without formal support from the City of Sandy Springs. We made the request of Mayor Paul to form a task force to go to the next “step”. During this same time, the city was considering new development codes. Mayor Paul, in an August council meeting, said that the city would take a closer look at affordable housing by forming a task force, virtually every councilman expressed their support for affordable housing.
In January 2018 at the annual city retreat, the city made the North End a priority with the formation of the North End Revitalization Task Force in March 2018. Mayor Paul asked us to be the Co-Chairs with our Councilman Steve Soteres serving as the Chair. We were looking forward to sharing our knowledge about workforce housing, which we’d gained over the previous 3 years.
The Task Force Meets
We had our first kick-off meeting in May 2018 at Pontoon Brewing Company. In that meeting Mayor Paul called for “not only ethnic diversity [but] also … economic diversity, generational diversity.”
The mayor said, “The goal is not to force working-class people to leave. … They’re an essential part of the economy of this city, but to successfully make them upwardly mobile.”
Mayor Paul went on to say “gentrification must be avoided and upward mobility” increased. He cited Atlanta’s Belt Line as a cautionary tale.
The Task Force met seven times and created six major initiatives for the revitalization. We supported five of the six. Regretfully, we could not vote for Initiative 1 which dealt exclusively with housing options since it was counter to most of the knowledge we had gained, did not support the mission of the Task Force, nor fulfilled the Mayor’s expressed vision.
In January 2019 we, along with other concerned citizens, formed Sandy Springs Together; a forum for our city to engage everyone in a necessary dialog about the importance of housing and the roles that the city must play.
It is our hope that with the support of all our residents, as well as Mayor Paul and the city council, that we can find a better alternative to Initiative 1 and bring “Sandy Springs Together.”
In fact, it is essential for the mayor and the city to be a major and integral part of the solution. Everyone needs to participate in finding the answer to our housing problem. This problem is not unique to Sandy Springs.
We hope this web site will engage, inform, and educate everyone. Please join us.