The historic Odd Fellows tower at 250 Auburn Avenue, once home to an African American fraternal organization, will soon be home to a Georgia Works yearlong housing program for chronically homeless men. The renovated building will house up to 164 men at any one time, as well as four retail stores to be leased to local businesses below market rate.
Recently, Invest Atlanta gave a $1.25 million Eastside Tax Allocation District Fund grant to the project. The city’s official economic development authority created the tax allocation district in 2003 to help rebuild the city’s downtown area by attracting new private investments.
While the interior will be renovated to accommodate Georgia Works’ needs, the facade will stay intact under the historic preservation of Easements Atlanta, a non-profit organization formed to protect significant historic properties while giving property owners a tax deduction.
Easements Atlanta board member and Atlanta Preservation Center Executive Director David Mitchell said the Odd Fellows building is a perfect fit for the joint project. Built in 1913, the building was home to the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization primarily composed of African Americans. The historic landmark underwent a renovation in the 1980s but has since not been maintained.
The building was home to many Black social functions across the years, with meeting and office space for the Odd Fellows as well as retail space for Black-owned businesses.
“The Odd Fellows building here in Atlanta was geared obviously to African American culture, and the phenomenal architecture is a good thing, but the big thing is really made by the who’s who crowd of the African American community,” Mitchell said.
The preservationist said the building is a defining aspect of the city of Atlanta — which is why preserving it is vital. Under the easement, preservationists will maintain stewardship of the tower portion of the complex, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Projects like the Odd Fellows building provide tax deductions to property owners, but Mitchell warns that prioritizing historical buildings over new construction is still an investment.
“Preservation forces you to invest, forces you think about who and what you’re going to live near, what you’re going to be by, and those defining cultural narratives,” Mitchell said.
But with a building like the Odd Fellows tower, that investment creates community, according to Mitchell.
He said it seems “rather natural” that something designed to bring people together to enhance their community and move society forward would be home to an organization like Georgia Works.
“You’re gonna have people who, similar to the building, were viewed in a disparaging light,” Mitchell said. “But like anything else, when you invest in the people, when you invest in society, and when you invest in your culture and identity, you’d be amazed at what you can produce.”
Georgia Works bought the tower portion of the complex with a $5 million grant from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget and plans to open the renovated facility in spring 2025.
Once opened, they will set up unhoused men with up to a year of housing at a nominal fee while they participate in transitional work. The organization also provides personal support, case management and workforce training as long as participants remain drug and alcohol-free. So far, the program has served over 850 men.
The group claims that “if a man is committed to being clean, to addressing the past, and to working, we will help him get a full-time job, transportation and permanent housing within a year.”