Report: Decatur’s getting whiter, richer

Minority population dropped from roughly 40 percent to around 25 percent between 1990 and 2010


  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Lefty suburb’s minority population dropped from roughly 40 percent to about 25 percent between 1990 and 2010

Decatur is rapidly changing into a rich, white enclave, according to a new city-sponsored study of census data.

In this city of approximately 20,000 residents, the minority population dropped from roughly 40 percent to about 25 percent between 1990 and 2010, the study found. And in the past decade, the median household income for black residents plunged 50 percent, while white household income went up 10 percent. The city’s overall median income is now north of $70,000 a year.

“The household income disparities based on race were just starker than anyone thought they would be,” says city spokesperson Casie Yoder, calling the report “eye-opening.” Yoder was among the Decatur officials who last year suggested the study, the early results of which were presented to the City Commission on Aug. 4.

The loss of the city’s trademark diversity goes hand-in-hand with Decatur’s boom in “infill housing” - developers tearing down homes and replacing them with expensive, king-sized housing. The gentrification stats are the most extreme in the Oakhurst neighborhood, which is also ground zero of the infill housing trend.

Oakhurst flipped drastically from majority-black to majority-white between 1990 and 2010, according to the report. In just the past decade, the neighborhood’s median income for black households fell 40 percent, while white household income skyrocketed 50 percent. Twenty years ago, the median income in Oakhurst was $40,000 in today’s dollars; now it’s more than $90,000.

“That used to be one of the lowest-income neighborhoods,” Yoder said. “Now it’s the highest. That’s been a really big change in a short period of time - in the past 10 years or so.”

Some other findings of the study:

- Decatur’s shift to heavily majority-white is essentially the reverse of the overall Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (including Sandy Springs, Athens and Clarke County), which went from 70 percent white in 1990 to around 55 percent white today.
- The city’s population of children under 5 years old was about equally black and white in 1990; in 2010 it was 75 percent white. The city’s overall youth population is almost 70 percent white and its senior population is about 65 percent white.
- For analysis purposes, the city was divided into quadrants labeled by major neighborhoods: Clairemont, Sycamore/Great Lakes, Winnona Park, and Oakhurst. All four had significant white population boosts. Only one, the Sycamore area, had an increase in the black population, and that was minor.
- Decatur’s median household income is more than $15,000 higher than the U.S. and metro Atlanta figures.
- Decatur remains a popular place for LGBT men and women, with a bigger percentage of same-sex households than DeKalb County and the Atlanta MSA.
- In extremely brief suggestions for solutions, the study says “economic incentives” are “challenging due to the city’s size.” Another solution: “Annexation” of more diverse areas.

Popular for its excellent school system and proximity to Atlanta, Decatur is apparently also wary of becoming a victim of its success. Infill housing has spurred community debates pitting property rights versus concerns about affordability, diversity, and tree loss. Complaints of racial profiling by police and white residents sparked a community meeting earlier this year, as Decaturish reported.

The city’s various responses include a sweeping overhaul of its planning code - still underway - and a new tree preservation ordinance. The new diversity study, the first the city has ever conducted, is another response that probably will be updated every 10 years.

“I think we’ve heard a lot anecdotally ... about losing diversity,” Yoder said. But they had no hard numbers.

Christian Perry, a Decatur native and grad student at Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, agreed to conduct the study as part of a summer internship. He’s still working on the final report, which will include more details and suggested solutions.

“Now we can talk, as a community, about what we want the next 20 or 30 years to look like,” Yoder said.

To view the early results of the diversity study, go here.