Public Housing Residents File Civil Rights Complaint with HUD

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Resident Advisory Board (RAB) representing all Atlanta public housing residents has filed a civil rights complaint with US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

Diane Wright, President of the Jurisdiction-Wide RAB Board and Hollywood Courts, and Shirley Hightower, Treasurer of Jurisdiction-Wide and President of Bowen Homes, sent a letter dated August 06, 2007, to James Sutton, HUD Region IV Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Director.

The complaint argues the Atlanta Housing Authority’s plans to demolish or sell Atlanta’s public housing communities violate the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by discriminating against the residents, most of whom are Black.

Further, AHA has failed to comply with HUD regulations requiring consultation with the residents about the plans to demolish public housing, the complaint states. For example, AHA has refused to comply with public records requests made by the RAB Board.

“Please consider this correspondence as a formal complaint of racial discrimination in housing opportunity in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended,” the letter states.

“This complaint is made against the Atlanta Housing Authority and relates to its policies and practices undertaken in an effort to demolish and, or dispose of its remaining stock of public housing projects in the City of Atlanta.”

“This complaint seeks your office’s intervention by way of investigation, conciliation and, or litigation as required and necessary to enforce the legally protected rights of the African American tenants currently living in the affected public housing projects to be free from racial discrimination in housing and community development opportunities,” the letter states.

The complaint explains there is a lack of affordable housing in Atlanta, and that the majority of public housing residents and low-income renters in general are Black.

“The intentional elimination of useful public housing projects occupied almost exclusively by low-income African Americans would be a double insult to the civil rights of African Americans, in so far that it would displace low-income African American families who had attained affordable housing security, while compounding the lack of fair share housing opportunities for low-income African Americans in general in the City of Atlanta by increasing the already significant affordable housing deficiency within the city,” the letter states.

“We want to make sure everyone know what’s going on,” Shirley Hightower told Atlanta Progressive News. “We’re asking them to do an investigation to enforce the legal rights we have as people to make sure we’re free from racial discrimination.”

“I think they’re gonna respond. When these letters go out and people see these letters, I hope and pray it touch their hearts and their minds,” Hightower said.

“I want to make sure with this [voucher] thing there is enough affordable houses to move to and not be homeless two years from now, a year from now. If you lose your job, it’s not like public housing. If you lose your job in public housing, you can ask for a hardship. [The voucher program] is not like that. You got to pay your utilities on time. You got to pay that rent. What happens when they get out there and they snatch it all away?” Hightower said.

“Public is nothing but Black people, number one. That’s what public housing is all about. They have some Caucasians here. But they’re a few, you can count them on your hand,” she said.

Attorney Lindsay Jones of Emory University helped Wright and Hightower write the letter.

“They [AHA] need to show the units are no longer capable for being used. That’s set forth in statutes. There are legal requirements for showing the communities to be not operable, or that demolition is otherwise in public interest, and that they consulted with the tenants. HUD also has to prove a decision to demolish housing or dispose by selling it doesn’t lessen the opportunity for housing on African Americans, otherwise a violation of the Fair Housing Act,” Jones told Atlanta Progressive News.

Jones is troubled AHA has not provided requested information to Wright and Hightower.

“The request was also made under the obligation to consult with tenants. They have a right to access the information independent to the Open Records Request,” Jones said.

“We wanted to look at the vouchers. We want to see how they’re funding them. How many units of housing are out there? Is this a real opportunity? We can’t get the information. It’s two-pronged. Information is not be shared. And there’s how this is being spun to the public. Those things need to be scrutinized very carefully,” Jones said.

The goal of the complaint “is not to get into the judiciary, but to get power in the hands of tenants. We want you to be conciliatory. Come down, play ball, sit at the table. Until then none of this is gonna happen. Waive the saber, we have a basis of discrimination if we go forward,” Jones said.

Jones is currently trying to establish a “civil rights project full-time” for Atlanta public housing residents. Legal Aid and the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless currently provide help to individuals but cannot take on class action cases due to funding restrictions.

Wright said she has made several efforts to get information from AHA.

As reported previously in APN, RAB Board meeting minutes earlier this year show that AHA specifically told residents they did not have to consult with them, and that they misled residents as to what regulations they were moving under.

The demolition/disposition requirements, also known as “Section 18,” do require resident consultation, Atlanta Progressive News has verified.

“They’re supposed to come to the RAB Board first and we were supposed to sit down with them and try to put the plan together… and they just went around that. We heard from them on February 14th that they had made a decision to go ahead and demolish and tear down the properties. They told us; they never sat down and tried to put anything or even to discuss a plan. They just said that they were doing it,” Wright recalled.

“From then on, they started coming to the community meetings with the police, security, and started offering vouchers,” Wright said. “They came to my community meeting with a police officer and security. There was one at mine. I don’t know how many others they went to with them. Hightower said they came to hers.”

“It’s supposed to be intimidating. And don’t forget, with cameras. They come with cameras. They don’t ask us if we want any videotape. They just start setting up. I met [AHA’s] Mr. Simms out there and I made him put the camera down,” Wright said.

“I want them to come back to the table and sit down with us. And talk about the vouchers and talk about the landlords and we want to see the database of landlords that’s gonna take Section 8. Timely inspections. They should hold landlords to the standards they hold the residents to. They should do criminal background checks and make sure the property is theirs and make sure the property isn’t going into foreclosure,” Wright said.

“I have questions about the Section 8 program. I have questions about the site-based program. I have questions, why they can’t move into Pittsburgh, East Lake Meadows… all these new sites they’re building, not why let the residents move in those?” Wright said.

“And that money they’re using to tear down the property, we want to know why they can’t use that money to rebuild?” Wright said.

“And I sure have questions about the utilities, the moneys. My biggest question is about moving the seniors. I need to know, where are you going to move these seniors to? And if the seniors is sick and they don’t have family, what gives them the authority to put them in a home?” Wright said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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