Seniors Terrified as AHA Plans to Demolish Their Housing
Interview with Carolyn Clemmons by Matthew Cardinale, News Editor.
(APN) ATLANTA — Carolyn Clemmons made 81 years old today, but instead of celebrating, she has been having trouble eating and sleeping at night, due to Atlanta Housing Authority’s mass eviction policies.
“I couldn’t eat, even though I’m supposed to eat with my pills, I would drink milk with my pills. I was just sitting here worrying myself to death. I didn’t know where I was going. I thought I was gonna be outdoors,” Clemmons, a resident of the University Homes public housing high-rise, told Atlanta Progressive News.
Ms. Clemmons is just one of the many seniors facing eviction, but she has spent several weeks just fighting to receive a voucher.
AHA finally promised a voucher to be picked up Thursday, Clemmons told APN, but she does not know whether it will be enough to cover the costs of her new apartment.
AHA first refused to accept Clemmons’s rent payments for two months because they said she was noncompliant due to having her daughter living with her. AHA told her that because her 49 year-old daughter didn’t have a job, Clemmons said, she was noncompliant with work requirements. But her daughter did have a job: taking care of her mother.
“I sure went through too much. I even gave up one time. First they told me my daughter wasn’t supposed to stay with me,” Clemmons said.
Clemmons needs her daughter in the home with her to take care of her. “Sometimes I can’t go to the store. I hate to take this medicine but I got to take it. They told her to go to school, she went to school. They told her to get a job, she went looking but she couldn’t find a job.”
“Then they told me–wrote me a letter–if I didn’t go this class… I said I can’t go to no class from 8am to 5pm. I ain’t fittin’ to do that. I can’t sit down that long. She said you won’t get the voucher if you don’t go. I have a letter telling me that,” Clemmons said.
“For two months they wouldn’t take my rent. Then they said if I didn’t pay $510, I’d be out this month. I had money saved up because I didn’t know where I was gonna go. I was scared to spend a penny,” Clemmons said.
“I gave it on to them. I’m glad I had it to give to em. But I had some food in the house to eat. I had food to eat, and that way it ain’t so hard on me now cause I’m eating. All I need is to eat and have a roof over my head. I’ve never been homeless in my life. If I hadn’t paid that money I would’ve had to be out by the 21st,” Clemmons said.
Clemmons said the only reason she got her voucher was because she called a social worker with the Fulton County Council on Aging, Dianne Williamson, who brought her to a recent City Council Meeting. She believes AHA felt pressure because her specific case had been brought to the Council’s attention.
FULTON COUNTY RESOLUTION ON SENIORS AND AHA
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution June 6, 2007, urging AHA to stop senior housing demolition plans until all affected senior and disabled residents are safely placed in decent housing, according to a document obtained by APN.
Commissioner Emma Darnell (District 5) sponsored the resolution asking that Roosevelt High Rise and Palmer House not be subject to the wrecking ball until suitable, affordable housing can be identified for all residents affected. Darnell did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The Darnell Resolution is the first response to growing concerns from seniors and other citizens over how senior citizens are treated and possibly relocated from their high rises.
“The resolution was put in place to sort of say to the City of Atlanta, there are some real needs and fears,” Yvonne Gilchrist of the Human Services Department (HSD) of Fulton County said. “We want to make sure everything is in place to make sure seniors have a roof over their heads.”
The Darnell Resolution directs the HSD to work with the AHA and affected seniors and the disabled to find affordable housing and medical services within Fulton County.
Medical care is very important for seniors, Gilchrist said, and the HSD is working with AHA to make sure every senior gets the care they need, even for residents who may have to move out of Fulton County.
But Williamson sees a lot of difficulties for seniors and the disabled in the near future.
SENIORS WORRY ABOUT ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE
“I don’t think most of these people understand what’s going on,” Henry Grissom, the President of the Resident Advisory Board (RAB) of the Roosevelt High Rise, told APN.
“I don’t like the way [the AHA plan] was presented to the residents, it was too confusing,” he said. “It caused them some mental anguish.”
Grissom learned of the AHA’s relocation plan in March. “It’s like a bomb [dropped] on us all of a sudden,” he said.
“We need an agreement between AHA and the residents that spells out in plain language what is going to happen so that we understand what is going on,” Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall told Atlanta Progressive News. “They have every right to be upset and frustrated with the entire process.”
Councilman Hall represents District 2 where both the Roosevelt High Rise and Palmer House are located.
New residents are also arriving at Roosevelt. “We’ve had 20 new people,” Grissom said. “I don’t know where they come from. How can they promise us a rose garden in two years when they have all these people who are not placed now?”
Grissom doubts many residents will be able to receive the medical services they need, such as in-house nursing care.
“I doubt they could keep medical benefits and doctors if they left Fulton or DeKalb [Counties],” he said. “Most residents don’t have transportation or drive.”
Mary Eskridge, President of the RAB at Antoine Graves complex, also a mix of seniors and younger disabled residents, expressed concerns similar to those expressed by Grissom.
“The majority of people do not wish to move,” she said.
The AHA moved residents out of three rooms in February so they could put their relocation office there, Eskridge said.
The residents were “moved to another high rise,” Eskridge said. She described the relocation office as “gorgeous, better than the rest of the apartments.”
Like at Roosevelt, residents at Antoine Graves receive special medical care. Eskridge doubts the ability of seniors to receive these benefits elsewhere.
“We have transportation to get people to the hospital, different home care and nurses. I don’t think they could get that same kind of care [elsewhere],” she said.
“It doesn’t make sense, we have no say so,” Eskridge added. “We shouldn’t be swept under the rug.”
“The ability to get medical transportation in Fulton County is problematic,” Bob Weisman, Executive Director of the Northside Shepard Center, who works closely with seniors, told APN. “There is such a demand for that service, people do not always arrive at their appointment on time.”
Almost all of his seniors rely on another form of transportation because they are unable to drive, Weisman said.
Seniors could catch a MARTA bus but would likely have to transfer multiple times before they arrive at their destination, Wiesman.
“It will be very difficult to place seniors in other high rises in the Metro area where transportation and medical services are easily attainable,” Weisman added.
He attributed this to the lack of affordable housing in the Metro area and the long waiting lists seniors face to get into existing facilities.
LACK OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING AFFECTS SENIORS TOO
“There is not enough affordable housing for seniors now and for the forthcoming seniors,” Williamson said. “Forthcoming seniors” refer to people who are about to reach the age where they would be classified as seniors.
“If you call any affordable high rise, there is a six month to two year waiting list [to get in].”
“The City does not have the level of affordable housing we need,” Councilman Hall said. “It is unacceptable to push out these residents.”
Williamson said affordable housing is crucial for seniors, many who live on nothing more than Social Security Income. She said one third of Fulton County’s aging population has annual incomes under $15,000.
“If we are not replacing unit for unit at an affordable rate, then we are not going to have an affordable place for the aging population,” she said.
“The market in Atlanta has gotten such that the value of housing is going beyond what the government is willing to pay,” JC Hillis, an attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid, told APN.
Hillis said most residents should receive a voucher–“should” being the operative word–but asked, “Are folks going to be able to find housing?”
“Right now, there are 9,500 people playing a game of musical chairs with our public housing and when that game ends, someone is going to be without a house,” he told the City Council on June 18, 2007.
“It is impossible for me to accept seniors leaving a community they’ve lived in for years and not being able to come back,” Councilman Hall said. “This just can’t happen. I’ll chain myself to the buildings.”
SENIORS SPEAK OUT TO CITY COUNCIL
Several senior residents and other concerned citizens made public comments to the Atlanta City Council for the first time on this issue at the Council Meeting on June 18, 2007.
“We can not afford to lose our stock of affordable housing without unit for unit replacement,” Helene Mills said.
Williamson would like to know what happened to the residents of John O. Chiles, a senior complex where all the residents have already been evicted, she tells APN.
“All seniors who are relocated should be traced to determine if they are remaining in communities where they would have access to health services, churches, and families,” Mills told the Council.
Tracking where those residents ended up could be crucial in helping other residents who are squeezed out elsewhere.
“Really look into what’s being done in the movement of these seniors because if they don’t have housing, you’re sentencing them to move out of the area where they won’t have healthcare,” Weisman told Council Members.
Williamson said the Council on Aging, in addition to helping seniors find the medical care they need, is training seniors to advocate for their own needs and speak out.
“We really want to help the seniors because some may be intimidated [about speaking up for themselves],” she said. “Trying to rally seniors is not always easy. I believe if they are educated, they will become their own advocate[s].”
UPCOMING CITY COUNCIL WORK SESSION
The Atlanta City Council will host a Work Session at City Hall on July 19, 2007. The public may attend and listen to Members of the AHA, the Fulton County Housing Authority, the City Council, and possibly others discuss this issue.
“What we’re trying to get is a true plan,” Williamson said. “July 19 is going to be key from a senior aspect.”
This could be the first opportunity for all sides to hear each other.
“We have been discussing the matter but we need to intensify the effort,” Councilman Hall said. “We are expecting to be briefed by the AHA on what their strategy over the next couple of years is going to be.”
Councilman Hall also said he plans on visiting his constituents at Roosevelt and Palmer very soon.
“Many seniors are going to be impacted by the AHA relocation plan,” Gilchrist said. “They will leave familiar surroundings. They have to get adjusted. They need to be assured they are going have a place to live.”
“I don’t understand why Housing is doing this to the point, two years in advance, when they haven’t placed all the other people evicted,” Grissom said. “It just seems to us Housing is not concerned at all. The average person is looking at it like Housing wants to get rid of us.”
“It doesn’t feel right,” Councilman Hall told APN. “There’s a lot of people watching this. Our citizens need comfort.”
“Unless something is done, a lot of the seniors are going to end up out in nowhere without access to transportation, medical services, or support structures,” Weisman said.
Councilman Hall told APN “it would be a travesty” for seniors to end up in a situation like Weisman describes.
“I believe we have to come in and see the seniors have a way to stay within or as close to where they are now,” he said. “They should have the option or right to go back.”
About the author:
Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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