Fought for mixed-income housing at East Lake development
By S.A. Reid
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Eva Davis sometimes sits on the porch of her duplex apartment and looks out with amazement over the Villages at East Lake in southeast Atlanta.
Green trees and grass and well-kept buildings have replaced the dilapidated, crime- and violence-ridden “hell” that was East Lake Meadows, or “Little ‘Nam” as some called it.
Davis and a core group of residents worked beginning in the early ’90s with the Atlanta Housing Authority and the East Lake Foundation to complete the vision that has become the Villages.
Now, there’s a public golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, state-of-the-art YMCA, charter elementary school, child care and early learning services.
There are programs for the young and old and a peaceful calm at the 6-year-old mixed-income community that brings the poor and better off together as neighbors.
Since its completion in 2001, the Villages has become a model in the continuing transformation of the nation’s public housing.
East Lake was the second of a handful of public housing communities scattered around Atlanta to be transformed after the 1996 Olympics. Techwood-Clark Howell, now Centennial Place downtown, was the first.
In the years preceding the project’s completion, Davis was one of Atlanta’s most recognized and outspoken of the AHA’s resident association leaders.
The once hard-charging, irascible Davis stood as constant guard over residents’ rights and didn’t take kindly to any challenges to their having their say.
East Lake was her kingdom and she was its queen bee, having lived there since 1971.
At age 71, Davis remains a passionate proponent of community revitalization using the East Lake model.
“She’s spoken to people about East Lake from all over the country,” said Carol Naughton, East Lake Foundation executive director and a close friend of Davis.
“She’s just a wonderful spokesperson for East Lake.”
Renee Glover, AHA executive director, considers Davis an “extraordinarily gifted” person.
Davis, a longtime member of the AHA’s board, now lives in a three-bedroom apartment she shares with her grandchildren.
Mellower and more reflective, Davis isn’t willing to let her current struggles with ovarian cancer discovered last year dampen her spirit or diminish her faith.
Raised as an only child, Davis grew up to have a big family —- 36 grandchildren and 18 great-grands. Never one to back down from a battle, she refuses to see her cancer as death sentence.
“I pray a lot,” Davis said. “The Gospel says take your burdens to the Lord and lean on him.”
She’s also willing to preach about the need for women to be more in tune with their bodies, checking regularly for unusual changes as experts advise.
That’s how she knew the lump she felt near her navel wasn’t a garden-variety fibroid.
Ovarian cancer, she said, doesn’t get talked up as much as it should and she wants to change that, if she can. Davis’ mother died of the disease.
Her passion about that project ranks with her commitment to her faith, family and fighting for East Lake.
As she put it: “Cancer to me ain’t too much worse than going through the changes I went through to get a decent place for me and these other people to live.”