City Council Hears Public Housing Demolition Plans

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) briefed the Atlanta City Council Thursday on its plans to demolish all public housing in Atlanta and issue vouchers to families, in addition to its new work requirements. AHA calls these the Quality of Life Initiative and Catalyst Program.

The Community Development and Human Resources (CDHR) Committee invited AHA Director Renee Glover, Barney Simms, and other AHA officials to the “work session” to make their case to the Council at large for the first time so Members could ask questions and express concerns they had heard from their constituents.

Citizens were furious the original format of the work session did not include time for the public to make comments or ask questions of either the Council or the AHA.

But a packed house demanded a chance for the public to speak to the Council and the AHA.

After much noise and shouting, Councilman Ivory Lee Young, Jr., moved to allow public comments and Committee Chair Jim Maddox approved time for public comment after Council Members had questioned the AHA.

Once this was resolved, the law department briefed the audience on how the Council has no legal jurisdiction over the AHA and how the AHA is a separate corporation from Atlanta.

Being that as it may, Councilwoman Felicia Moore insisted, “We can’t tell them what to do but we certainly have a lot of leverage and we should have some say that they listen to, in terms of how they operate.”

“So I don’t want us to think that because we don’t govern the day to day operations of the housing authority that somehow we don’t have any leverage to them. I think that’s evident today because they’re here,” she added.

Glover took to the podium, thanked the Council, and recognized several other AHA members and several Resident Presidents and Vice Presidents from public housing communities across Atlanta.

Glover failed to publicly recognize two resident leaders who have opposed her policies, wven though Diane Wright and Shirley Hightower, Resident Presidents of Hollywood Courts and Bowen Homes, respectively, were in attendance.

Councilwoman Moore, whose District includes these two public housing communities, later publicly recognized Wright and Hightower.

Councilman Maddox assured Wright that the Council does not consider her or Hightower “outcasts.”

Glover’s presentation painted a picture of everyone leaving poverty and having the freedom to choose their own safe and sanitary housing. She presented numbers and facts that she argues indicate successful outcomes during previous relocations both at the community level and in terms of the benefits former public housing residents can enjoy.

During the presentation, which included flashy diagrams, pictures, and PowerPoint slides, many audience members grumbled, shook their heads, yelled out phrases like, “That’s a lie,” and hissed and booed.

“[These problems] cannot be solved with slick PR [public relations] campaigns,” State Sen. Vincent Fort said later. “How much have y’all spent [on this PR campaign]?”

Some, perhaps still disgusted with the work session format, stormed out.

Others may have walked out possibly because the session ran too long without providing for public input, the information was not new to them, or the information and the way it was presented was too complex.

After Glover’s presentation, Council Members took the time to ask questions. Councilwoman Mary Norwood asked several questions from a three-page handout provided in advance by the Fulton County Council on Aging.

Members from this group passed out copies of this handout to audience members prior to the work session in order to see how many questions the Council would ask.

Norwood asked 11 of the 16 questions, many of which Glover answered in an indirect way. AHA members promised to provide the Council with answers to these and any other questions that could not be answered completely at that moment as well as relevant statistics.

Moore expressed concerns about where voucher holders would be able to go after hearing concerns that some landlords would not take these vouchers.

Kimberly Charles of Atlanta Legal Aid also raised this concern during public comment time.

Glover and Simms made assurances that voucher holders have been, and will be able to, find places to live with vouchers.

Moore, who did not receive an adequate answer on this matter, suggested relocation plans cannot continue under a cloud of confusion and doubt.

“I’m troubled,” former City Councilman Derrick Boazman said later. “This is the first time the Housing Authority has set removal in place without a plan.”

“What’s going to happen to people when they are moved out?” he asked. “Developers aren’t building affordable housing.”

Glover allowed the Resident Presidents and Vice Presidents she had recognized earlier to make statements about how happy they were to be leaving public housing after the Council asked their questions.

A furious audience demanded that Wright and Hightower be allowed to speak as well. Desperate to keep order, Chairman Maddox allowed it.

Wright flung angry accusations while Glover and Simms tried to answer. Moore pleaded for order and after some back and forth, but it appeared Wright did not receive answers she was looking for.

Helene Mills, President of the Council on Aging, requested the AHA release periodic progress reports on the relocation process and asked what is going to happen to seniors, many who comprised the audience.

Simms made a “guarantee” several times during public remarks that no one, especially seniors, would end up homeless during the relocation process and that everyone would receive a voucher.

Promises were also made to release periodic reports on relocation progress.

“What is going to be done with all this information conveyed today?” Joyce Jones, Member of the Council on the Aging, asked.

Council Members said they would have to absorb the information from the AHA and from constituents in order to find the truth and where to go from here.

“This is not the way to go,” Fort said. “You have not done a good job reaching out while this place was packed,” he added after many in attendance had streamed out.

“All of this is real pretty,” Boazman said of the AHA presentation. “Behind all this talk is a human reality. We can believe the hype or we can believe the reality.”

“The challenge for the Council: do we have the will to let poor people continue to live in Atlanta?” Boazman asked. “We don’t want you to be in the business of creating homelessness.”

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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