A man with a water hose stands nearby to spray and clear the dust rising from the rubble as the excavator reaches its mechanical claw high into the air once more, then drops in an instant to crash again through the roof of a vacant apartment building.
This was the scene at the Atlanta Street public housing complex in Gainesville on Wednesday morning as demolition finally began on the 60-year-old community.
Bricks, concrete blocks, rebar and shingles piled on the ground together in a massive heap as the roofs and walls were ripped off to expose the insides of units that once housed mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.
Beth Brown, executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, said it would take an estimated 30 to 45 days to tear down each building and remove the debris.
The Green Hunter Homes, a 131-unit public housing complex built in the 1950s, needed to be demolished because it would cost more to renovate than redevelop, Brown has said.
The Housing Authority has partnered with Walton Communities LLC, which has developed similar housing projects in other Georgia cities, to bring $10 million in cash to the redevelopment project through a tax credit program.
Construction of 252 new public, public, affordable and market-rate units over three phases is scheduled to begin later this year with the first move-in dates coming in 2018.
The redevelopment comes at a time when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking to move out of the public housing business.
Civic leaders in Gainesville’s African-American community also hosted a farewell to the community in the fall with a block-party style commemoration.
Former residents of Atlanta Street received vouchers that allowed them to get subsidized housing elsewhere, and the last families relocated in October.
Since that time, each unit has been gutted and prepped for demolition, while a chain fence was erected around the property to keep out vandals and squatters.