Developer Attacks Queer Community Garden known as the Homostead
On Saturday, October 17, 2015, Ehsan Razavi, owner of RZI Properties, bulldozed most of the garden at Open Space Church, also known as the Homostead, while police stood by and refused to intervene.
“Years of cultivation got destroyed in an hour,” Kate Morales, a resident at the Homostead, told Atlanta Progressive News.
Open Space Church was founded by Iuval Clejan in 2009 as a collectively-owned residence and community space in Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood. Its mission was to serve as both a residential and a community space where people could learn about and practice ecologically sustainable living.
The project has evolved as different people have participated over the years. It spawned a food cultivation program called ArkFab that is now housed at Georgia Tech and Truly Living Well Urban Garden.
Four years ago, Open Space came under the stewardship of people who prioritized creating a safe space for the queer community. They dubbed the house, “The Homostead.”
The Homostead holds a weekly garden day, hosts workshops and skillshares, and organizes arts and cultural events.
Workshop subjects have included mushroom log inoculation, worm composting, chicken coop building, beekeeping, and medicinal plant identification, to name a few.
Community events have ranged from seasonal festivals to variety shows that involve conceptual performance art, music, and acrobatics.
While the Homostead has developed a strong and diverse network of people who contribute to and benefit from the space, it doesn’t strive to have a high profile.
“We take an approach that the personal is political,” Maya Washington, a Homostead resident said.
“We try to live in the ways we feel are right and we invite the community to learn and develop these ways with us. We don’t do it in a mainstream fashion,” she said.
Washington believes the values and lifestyles fostered at the Homostead are part of the reason Razavi targeted the space in such an aggressive manner.
Razavi owns an enclosed lot adjacent to the Homostead garden. The properties are separated by a public easement where the Homostead constructed garden beds.
About a year ago Razavi began making periodic visits to the Homostead to aggressively demand that the garden beds be removed so that he could pave a driveway from the street to his property, which was otherwise inaccessible.
Residents told him each time that they would remove the beds when he procured the necessary permits to develop the land, which he never did.
Instead, Razavi resorted to harassment, coming to the Homostead without warning to shout at residents and call them “hippies” and “dykes.”
“Ehsan has a problem with this space because it doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of recent development in Atlanta,” Washington said.
“We’ve seen many houses on on our street get demolished and rebuilt. The new houses are large, invasive, and fenced off with cameras everywhere. They don’t invite warmth or community. The Homostead is the antithesis of what developers are trying to make Atlanta,” she said.
On the morning of October 17, 2015, Razavi showed up again, this time with a rented bulldozer, hired workers, and two Atlanta police officers.
Not only did Razavi bulldoze the public easement, he destroyed private property.
The matter is somewhat complicated by the fact that a large part of the Homostead garden is on land owned by an elderly neighbor who has allowed the urban farmers to use it.
Razavi claimed he had the elderly neighbor’s permission to bulldoze the garden. The police took him at his word and stood by as his crew tore up fall crops, an herb wheel, a fire pit, and a fish pond.
When members of the Homostead rushed to the neighbor’s house, she told them she had not given anyone permission to bulldoze. Even after the police confirmed her statement, they did nothing to stop Razavi. By that time he was already back on his own property.
Instead, the police threatened to arrest Homostead residents for shouting at Razavi.
Afterwards, Razavi sent a text message to one of the Homostead residents.
“Hope you and all your lovely friends are doing well. It’s sad to come to this. I have no choice but to bring criminal charges if me or any of my guys to be harass or threaten again [sic],” it read.
Razavi currently owns nine properties in Fulton and DeKalb, most of which are overgrown lots and boarded up houses. His business model seems to hinge on flipping such properties for prices extravagantly higher than what he paid.
He bought the lot next to the Homostead for 6,801 dollars. According to his listing on the real estate website Zillow, Razavi is asking 45,000 for the lot, which at this point amounts to an expanse of mud that’s inaccessible except through a torn-up easement. Keller Williams Realty is facilitating the sale, which so far has no takers.
The Homostead has offered to buy the land in the past but isn’t able or willing to pay more than what it’s actually worth.
As soon as Homostead residents posted an alert on Facebook, neighbors and friends started pouring in, more than fifty in all. They brought food and condolences, along with a readiness to organize.
Razavi may have finally picked the wrong battle.
On October 21, 2015 a City of Atlanta code enforcement officer investigated Razavi’s worksite and issued a stop work order, citing him for having “no plans, no permit.”
Now the Homostead community is beginning the process of rebuilding, pursuing legal actions against Razavi, and rallying neighbors to collectively address harmful development.
The Homostead’s call for support is available online here:
[Editor’s note: The writer of this article, Anna Simonton, lived at The Homostead for several months and currently sits on the board of Open Space Church.]