By Kamille D. Whittaker
In Waterlab, a workspace for small businesses, where Castleberry Hill’s Walker and Fair Streets meet, H. Scott Young recalls the plight of Buttermilk Bottom, an African-American neighborhood that was razed in the 1960s to make way for urban redevelopment projects, most notably the Atlanta Civic Center. There’s also the Lenox Mall corridor, the city of Lightning, where the Mercedes-Benz stadium was erected, and others. But in the late 1980s, when Young moved to the city from the northeast where his mother was a real estate entrepreneur and his stepfather and father both showed him the diligent dignity of blue collar work, there was a holdout that coalesced these foundations in the form of a cultural hub that he called the 125th street of the South: The West End.
“Things were a bit different in the early 1990s there. There was a little bit more blight early on that I think it still suffers from now, but it was thriving – it was a multi-contextual black environment and that made a massive impression on me.”
In the year he moved down, alongside the steady migration of black middle class professionals to the city, illicit real estate practices were rampant. “In the same way block busting was happening in Atlanta in the ‘60s, steering was happening in the late ‘80s. Our realtor was purposely only showing us homes on the East side. So I had no idea that the West End and all these cultural centers actually existed. For me culture was everything. I just didn’t have a name, or language for it.”
He encountered a version of the phenomena again when he began purchasing and historically preserving multi-family units, first, a dilapidated apartment building in Grant Park, one of the last remaining apartment buildings on Atlanta Avenue.
“Atlanta Avenue was once full of apartment buildings and they tore most of them down partly because they wanted to segregate the neighborhood and they felt that apartments would attract black folks. I pulled the original deed from 1919 and it read, ‘must not allow to purchase, lease, board, occupy anyone of African descent for 70 years.’ There’s a reversionary clause, so if you go against that deed ownership reverts back to the seller.”
Spending a lot of time researching his properties at the Atlanta History Center, meeting subcontractors, and honoring an internal compass that constantly led him back to community connection put him in conversations with the small businesses owners in the areas where he was dealing which crystallized his next pivot in energy: leasing to small business owners. In 2015, he created the fully independent Seryus Property Group, headquartered in Waterlab.
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This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Tribune.