Keep your credit card handy. You might need it to buy a bathroom.
That is one of the lessons learned by residents of Atlanta's Inman Park neighborhoods in their nine-year fight to make over that century-old suburb-turned-slum.
Butterfly banners hang in Inman Park windows as symbols of the revival of that neighborhood, which is two miles from downtown.But, as residents of what was Atlanta's first garden subdivision have learned, the butterflies were not free.
In their renewal effort, homeowners had to do battle with city officials. One struggle was to erase factories from the neighborhood zoning ordinances.
Other struggles were for services.One housewife signed up 25 customers, paid a stiff deposit and guaranteed all unpaid bills before a dairy would resume deliveries in the neighborhood.
Earlier, Inman Park was a melange of steamboat Gothic mansions, pre-Hoover "shotgun" cottages and Eisenhower-era apartment blocks. The nicer element ran boardinghouses and "winos" were just neighbors with drinking problems.
Now, there has been a biracial influx of young and not-so-young professionals into the 600-house neighborhoods. They spearheaded a citywide "close-in" neighborhood revival, helped block an interstate highway project and elected their own city councilman. Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson recently went house-hunting in the area. A longtime resident says, "The streetsweeper in now here every night."
Key in the Inman Park restoration effort in recent years has been the cooperation of mortgagers, who now give buyers in this urban oasis the same interest breaks they give those interested in a new subdivision miles away.
"That's because both have 10 to 20 percent down payments, a plot of land and a set of plans," says John F. Leak, vice president of Central Atlanta Progress and principal liaison between the bankers and the Inmanites.
After two years of talk, "we are seeing 80 and 90 percent (homes) loans being made in Inman Pak," Leak said. The breakthrough came when lenders agreed to appraise the old houses according to their potential value when rehabilitated, not in their pre-restoration shambles. The difference - $30,000 to $40,000 appraisals before renovation, compared with $45,000 to $100,000 afterwards - meant more loan money.
That's quite a few interest points away from that day in 1969 when Atlanta designer Bob Griggs "fell in love with the right house in the wrong neighborhood," bought it, talked friends into the area and became the first president of Inman Park Restoration Inc., after it was founded in his living room.
In those days, financing was exotic, restoration was often piecemeal. Often, a previous owner was the prime lender, scratching his name on the note as he dashed to catch up with the rest of the white flight. The buyer then turned around and got second second, third and even fourth mortgages.
"If you needed to buy a toilet and three or four mortgages left you without funds, you were going to use a credit card to buy a toilet," recalls Joe Webb, a 34-year-old banker, who five years ago became the first Inman Park resident to get a conventional home loan.
"I called 15 S&Ls, found one that would give me a verbal committment and got over to that guy's office before he figured out what he had promised me," Webb said.
Life was harried. As president of the neighborhood association, "I was averaging four meetings a week," Webb recalled. There were talks with the police for more patrols, the sanitation service for better garbage pick-up and some help with construction debris, the planning department to upgrade zoning that had written off some sections of the area as a mill town.
The work finally earned Inman Park a place on the National Register of Historic Places - no guarantee of eternal life but some protection against the wrecking ball and back-hoe.
A community-owned newspaper, partly funded with association dues, is delivered to every Inman Park resident. Spring festivals and Christmas house tours have helped brighten the neighborhood's image.
But there are still problems.
Atlanta's best stores, the kind Inman Park residents can easily afford, are distant. Schools are improving - but little. Speculators are rife, moving in, buying houses, waiting for values to climb.