Adriene Hill: Later this morning, we'll get another clue about the shape of the housing market -- November's existing home sales numbers. But it's tough out there, no doubt about it. Consider one part of Atlanta where homes are now selling for less than the price of a used car.
Jim Burress reports from WABE.
Jim Burress: On paper, 434 James P. Brawley Dr. sounds like the American Dream. A three-bedroom ranch, fenced yard, a front porch and walking distance to the best Downtown Atlanta has to offer.
Makeda Johnson: God help me, Lord.
That's the American Nightmare. Neighbor Makeda Johnson can't wrap her head around the fact that 434 Brawley -- a house that sold a few years ago for $124,000 -- was unloaded last week for just a few grand.
Johnson: It breaks my heart. Because if that house sold for $2,000, and another one sold for $15,000, then I probably have got the most expensive house in the community at $55,000.
That's what Johnson says her house is now worth. She paid three times that. At the height of the housing boom, speculators thought the neighborhood would pay big returns. So they came in, driving up prices. Then the bubble burst.
Johnson: There's no options to sell my house. There's absolutely no options.
Johnson lives in the Vine City neighborhood. It -- and adjoining English Ave. -- have become the face of the housing crisis in Atlanta. Since the bust, urban decay has crept back into the neighborhood, where you're more likely to see boarded windows than a welcome mat.
Mercedes Marquez: Be willing to rethink what a better future looks like.
Mercedes Marquez is an assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She says sometimes the answer for decaying neighborhoods is tearing down homes and starting over. Dozens of homes in and around Vine City have already been demolished.
But even new homes sit abandoned. That's because the problem isn't as much about home prices as it is the "larger" economy, says Harley Ettienne. He's assistant professor of city and regional planning at Georgia Tech.
Harley Ettienne: You can't throw money at housing when the real issue is jobs.
Neighbors hope plans for a Wal-Mart will provide a needed grocery store, jobs, and validation their community isn't a lost cause.
In Atlanta, I'm Jim Burress for Marketplace.