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The Bluff: Atlanta's forgotten community

8:04 AM, Nov 3, 2011   |    comments
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An astonishing number of home vacancies--- more than half ---has turned what should have been prime real estate into crime real estate. Welcome to the Bluff in English Avenue

ATLANTA -- In Northwest Atlanta, there's a community where you can see the emerald skyline of the city from your windows.

The problem is most of the windows are boarded up.

On any given day, the sound of power saws and hammers fills the air as carpenters continue a brisk trade of fitting plywood boards into window openings.

Nailing a board into place, one carpenter said, "It's my first, won't be my last."

Scenes like this are the sad reality of life here.

And that's ironic. The astonishing number of home vacancies -- more than half -- has turned what should have been prime real estate into crime real estate.

Welcome to the Bluff on English Avenue.

"It does breed crime in the communities," Atlanta Police Major Timothy Quiller said of the empty and abandoned homes. "You have drug trades inside the vacant properties. You have prostitution; you have homeless."

But mostly, you have fear.

"We've been robbed here. They stole our whole air conditioning unit," said Jenae Campbell. "There are no neighbors, so nobody can see what they're doing. Of course, we see people going in and out of these houses all times of the day, even 3 in the morning."

Night is when the drug dealers and prostitutes haunt these streets like zombies and specters, lurking in the shadows with an almost limbic resolve... waiting for the johns and addicts to come in from the suburbs, scattering like mice every time they see the police.

"It's dangerous down here," said Justin Mizell. "Streets are full of people yelling 'Whatchu want? Whatchu need?'... this, that, and the other. It's not too safe down here."

Epitaph graffiti marks the places of violent death here. Gangs too tag the boundaries of their influence. But there is no clear territory. Because this is a no-man's land, filled with awful possibilities, especially for the children.

"When it be night time, you see people in the cut, and they just be doing drugs and stuff," a 12-year-old boy named Martravian said as he sat on the steps of his home.

Very often police ride two to a car through the streets in the Bluff. But the children, just as often, walk them alone.

"It makes me scared, because I be walking by myself sometimes," said eight-year-old Jason. "If I don't be with my brother and sisters, I feel bad. But when they do walk with me, I don't feel scared anymore."

Martravion and Jason live in the only occupied house on one of the streets in the Bluff.

"It's kind of scary because all of these people be robbing houses," Martravian said.

Their neighbors are nameless phantoms who inhabit the abandoned homes, watching them through holes in the wall and darkness, as they ply their industry of crime.

The boys say they go immediately into their house when they see strangers lurking in the abandoned homes. The boys' mother says she wants to move.

So do many others who've learned that in the Bluff, you enter at your own risk.

"The neighborhood is so messed up," sighed Jenae Campbell, the young woman whose home was burglarized. "Just look," she said pointing at the empty properties that surround her home.

"It's almost like...why bother?"

On Thursday in part two of 11Alive News' three-part series, we'll introduce you to a new word in the lexicon of the Bluff: home-icide.

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