EXCLUSIVE: AHA Backtracks Some on Eviction Policies
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Housing Authority has agreed to a more thorough review process of each family in public housing who is noncompliant with work requirements before forcing them onto the streets, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.
Resident advocates are celebrating what they see as their first substantive victory, particularly for the families who were worrying about homelessness if they couldn’t find a job by June 30th.
Resident advocate Diane Wright said the June 30th eviction deadline would no longer apply and the only families who now face immediate eviction are those who haven’t paid rent.
“They revised that stuff, honey. Because y’all were writing it up and they had us on TV. I said thank you Jesus!” Wright told APN.
“They got a lot of false pride. For them to admit that [policy changes are needed], that means they’re admitting they’re wrong about a lot of things,” resident advocate, Shirley Hightower, said.
A letter explaining the changes, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News, was issued today from the AHA President Renee Glover to Ms. Wright, Ms. Hightower, as well as City Council Member Felicia Moore.
“They’re going back to start from scratch to make sure nobody falls through the cracks,” Councilwoman Moore told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview. “We were particularly concerned with some families who had no response or no progress [towards work requirements]. Those families could have had certain needs. We got a commitment they would go out and further assess those people.”
“I recognize the families who have not moved forward with the Work Compliance requirement may face unique or special challenges,” Glover wrote. “Therefore, AHA will take additional steps in working with these households. It is our intent to assist families with reaching successful compliance.”
“Additionally,” Glover continued, “as we work with the final set of families AHA will be improving the implementation procedures by including additional steps before steps are taken toward eviction for the sole reason of failing to comply with the Work Program requirement.”
“The improvements include an additional quality control review of the files and an interview of household members by an AHA staff person, with a social work background, to determine if an exemption or extension should be given based on the household circumstances; and… Additional referrals for household support… to insure each household is successful.”
One major change is, previously the evictions process was being carried out by private management companies such as the Lane Company. Now, the compliance reviews will be conducted by an AHA staff member with a social work background.
Second, the AHA now promises that every family will be considered for extensions or exemptions from the work requirements. This is a significant change from before where the AHA was insisting it knew of no systematic, policy problem.
At a recent AHA Board Meeting as well as a public meeting at City Hall, AHA Board Members promised a few individual families who presented their circumstances in public comment that they would receive assistance. Thus, AHA realizes those cases were representative of many families.
Some activists stressed caution. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” Anita Beaty said, explaining that the demolitions of all Atlanta public housing communities are still pending and need to be stopped. Beaty said this seemed in part to be an effort on the part of AHA to appease residents.
Resident advocate Shirley Hightower believes she has undergone a personal transformation into a community activist for the homeless over the last month.
Hightower contacted Atlanta Progressive News a month ago about the evictions, hoping we knew where to find affordable apartments. “I didn’t know it was gonna grow to all this at all,” Hightower said.
“For one thing I had no idea there were so many homeless people, so many, it’s a whole other world I didn’t know exists. Even though I’m here, I’m in this world.”
Hightower met with Glover, along with Ms. Wright and Council Member Moore, on May 8, 2007. Moore told APN that Glover had requested to meet the resident leaders along with Moore.
Afterwards, Moore sent a letter to Glover listing a number of concerns which came out of the meeting.
In the meeting, Glover said, “I just don’t what to say, I’m not trying to put anybody out,” Hightower recalled.
“She didn’t know they was putting people out and not going through the proper procedures.”
Councilwoman Moore said she still has many unanswered questions and she will continue to be involved for a long time. “The Housing Authority certainly don’t want me to be problematic for them. They’re certainly reliant on the City and the City Council,” Moore said.
“I’m glad at least we got this far. I wouldn’t proclaim a victory as there’s still a lot of issues that need to be addressed,” Moore said.
“Particularly in light of the slated properties for demolition… where would these people go? Is there an available market capacity? The emergent issue is of course the evictions but I’m also looking at the longer term issues,” Moore said.
Moore said the revision would not have occurred “if not for Ms. Hightower and Ms. Wright. All the public housing [residents] across the City certainly owe them some thanks. They have successfully brought this issue to the Housing Authority.”
Independent media played a big role, too, resident leaders said. “If it weren’t for Jonathan and Matthew, none of this would have been told,” Wright said.
“It does show they’re trying to do something. It shows the advocacy working in some way. They’re not taking the same hard line, they’re taking a little lighter line,” State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas told APN.
“I didn’t think they’d care about bad press. It looks like it got to a point where they said well we shouldn’t be talked about like this,” Thomas said.
“They were running havoc on us. They were doing whatever they wanted to do. They were doing a free-for-all,” Thomas said.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.