Equity Trust’s loan to the Newtown Florist Club, in Gainsville, GA, enabled them to purchase four lots to build four CLT homes for low-income families as part of a long-term effort to strengthen and care for their community.
Sixty years ago, a group of African American women established the Newtown Florist Club to provide aid to neighborhood families during bereavement. They began by pooling resources to purchase funeral wreaths, and soon were caring for the dying as well. They expanded to become vocal leaders for civil rights and their community, taking on Klan intimidation, discriminatory voting structures, lack of indoor plumbing, and inadequate housing. They created a girls leadership program, and began to train youth in community activism. Through all of this, the Newtown Florist Club continued to provide bouquets of roses for each funeral. Eventually the Club began to ask why so many members of their community were dying, and why the same several diseases were preying on the entire neighborhood. Why were so many people in the community dying of lupus? Why so many were dying of the same type of cancer?
Newtown is located in an industrial fallout zone, where a variety of mills and factories use and generate toxic substances. Over the years, accidents and chemical “releases” have poisoned the soils and periodically kill the fish in local streams. These industrial complexes emit foul smells, which are sometimes noxious chemical spills. Sometimes there are evacuations when large volumes of deadly gas are in the air after spills. Additionally, in the 90’s, the Newtown community discovered that their neighborhood was built on a landfill, and that the city of Gainsville had tried to suppress this information. The Newtown Florist Club believed that a connection existed between all of these pollutants and the specific diseases that seemed unusually prevalent.
Newtown Florist Club began conducting studies on the devastating health effects of environmental toxins within the neighborhood. They connected with experts and began taking soil and water samples. They also began talking about these issues in terms of environmental racism. With the results of the studies, people in the neighborhood learned that the contamination of their soil and water runoff was painfully extensive. It is starting to become clear that they should all move off of the site, but for many community members, this isn’t financially feasible. Also, the community doesn’t want to be broken apart. To address this situation, Newtown Florist Club is training local youth about zoning and environmental justice. The Club has created a community land trust, and is now purchasing land and building low-income housing. They are working to gain skills in housing development so that they can move their community as a whole off the site of the landfill, and onto clean land with air that’s safe to breathe.