AHA Deceives Residents, Prepares Evictions without HUD Approval

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(APN) ATLANTA — Having moved up the demolition dates of three family projects serving mostly poor, Black families, Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) has begun notifying residents of their eviction plans and are deceiving them in the process, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

The senior high-rise demolitions for Palmer House and Roosevelt House were postponed to 2009, while Bankhead Courts, Bowen Homes, and Hollywood Courts, were moved up to 2008.

“They didn’t want the City Council to go against [them] because remember the whole issue was about the seniors. Because the resolution was gonna be drawn up for seniors, not for the family developments. I think all of it should have been taken into consideration because we have children,” Diane Wright, President of the Resident Advisory Board (RAB), told Atlanta Progressive News.

“Most of the public housing is predominantly Black, and we’re the ones they’re trying to move out,” Wright said. “The Council came up with this resolution because these are seniors and they feel that they vote. They say it’s not enough of the family developments [are] voting.”

AHA’s Barney Simms told residents at Hollywood Courts apartments on Wednesday, December 12, 2007, “No,” when asked if it was possible that funding for vouchers would be cut.

The resident–named Nicole according to Wright–asked, “How long will the voucher last?”

“They don’t end,” Simms replied. “If you follow Congress, the funding trend is with the vouchers.”

“Is it possible you could run out of funds?” Nicole later asked.

“No,” Simms replied. “We know they’re going to continue, but they have to approve them every year.”

Nicole then asked, “What if HUD decides they no longer want to fund the vouchers, where are we going to go?” It is actually US Congress, though, not HUD, which funds the vouchers.

“They might freeze them,” Simms replied. But they won’t go below current levels, Simms asserted.

City Council Member Felicia Moore said she remembered the exchange.

“You can’t ever guess what Congress will do,” Moore told Atlanta Progressive News in a phone interview. “To give anybody the indication the money for vouchers will always be there, is not something you can do because you just don’t know.”

“It’s a yearly thing. It’s not a guarantee. I heard that they were about to cut some vouchers. I think they need to make it clear to residents that it’s based on an annual appropriation. So they can anticipate that the funds are going to continue, but can’t guarantee that the funds are going to be there. So if they do cut the funding for the vouchers, at least they’ve provided correct information,” Moore said.

Linda Couch, Deputy Director of the DC-based National Low Income Housing Coalition, said Simms’s statement was untrue as well. Couch added that 150,000 vouchers were cut between 2004 and 2006 and that the current budget in US Congress would cut 25,000 vouchers.

“Barney Simms is purposely misleading residents, and that’s a part of their tactics to get the residents on board to take vouchers. I think it’s a outright lie. Because Mr. Simms read the paper just like everybody else. And remember, he said he follows the trend of Congress. So if you follow the trend of Congress, you already know those vouchers have no value to ‘em,” Wright told APN by phone.

AHA had a court reporter present from Steven Ray Green and Associates. The court reporter offered APN a copy of their transcript. However, the next day, Mr. Green told Atlanta Progressive News AHA did not want the transcript released.

“Because they don’t actually want the public to know that residents are not pleased with what AHA is doing to them. They want everyone to think that residents are going along with the program. And not that residents are asking questions about where are they going to live,” Wright said.

The court reporters have gone to the Georgia Board of Court Reporting to get their opinion on whether the transcript can be released.

And that wasn’t the only problem. AHA also admitted sending in “not complete” versions of the minutes from previous resident association meetings to HUD. Atlanta Progressive News recently broke the story that AHA sent in forged meeting minutes to HUD to show what they purported to be resident consultation.

AHA had no relocation plans available for the residents to inspect. AHA admitted they would be meeting with residents individually to “prepare” them for the upcoming move even though no applications were in to HUD for the demolitions.

Additionally, AHA ignored the demands of residents that they be allowed to return to the properties.

AHA ADMITS “INCOMPLETE” MINUTES

Wright stood up at the meeting, with documents obtained from Atlanta Progressive News in hand, and asked, “First of all, these are the documents that came from HUD. Who typed up the meeting minutes? These are not ours,” Wright said.

“These are not the complete minutes. These are the minutes that impact what we did,” Simms said.

In doing so, AHA admitted sending in “incomplete” documents. Implicitly, they also admitted sending in their own version of the minutes, even though this was not specified to HUD and they presented in the application that they were the official minutes.

Also, “incomplete” is a bit misleading because the fabricated minutes are not based at all on the real minutes from the association, and contain completely different language that appears to contain agency legalese.

AHA ADMITS PREPARING RESIDENTS TO MOVE WITHOUT HUD APPROVAL

AHA’s Renee Bentley told residents in her presentation that they would begin working with the residents in January 2008 to “prepare” them for relocation. “Human service providers are going to begin working in January to begin reaching out to help prepare for relocation,” Bentley said.

In response to questions from Wright and the Hollywood Courts Parliamentarian–who Wright says is named Ann–Bentley explained that the January meetings were to “prepare residents for relocation,” but in August the relocation would start.

Wright then asked why the relocation teams would begin work in January 2008 without HUD approval.

“Because we anticipate submitting an application in December [2007]. It takes 60 days. We expect them to approve it. And we want the residents to be ready,” Bentley said.

“It’s illegal,” Wright told APN by phone. “Because first of all, it don’t have approval. It’s an intimidation tactic. It’s like I’m saying you’ve gotta move. They said you have 60 days to move, if HUD okays it, even if you don’t want to move. How are we going to know if it’s been passed or not if they got the okay from the application to tear down these properties, because they’re not gonna let us see it.”

Wright also predicted they would begin evicting residents for other reasons because many won’t qualify for the vouchers, including those with criminal backgrounds, poor credit histories, and those who are unemployed.

“They’re gonna weed the ones out they want to weed out. They’re going to start evictions. It’s intimidation, but it’s also about the criminal background checks, it’s about their rental [credit] checks, and it’s about several things. And the main thing, it’s about those [lease] addendums, they weed ‘em out from that, check and see if they got jobs… That’s what they’ve been doing on every site,” Wright said.

Simms told residents during the meeting that there were “special programs” to assist residents with those kinds of issues. However, Simms did not specify what the programs were.

Wright tells APN that she understands that some residents with those issues may qualify for a one-time cash payment, but no voucher, and she does not know how many eligible residents would receive the assistance.

DOES AHA HAVE A PLAN?

Attorney Lindsay Jones, who was only there for part of the meeting, asked whether AHA had a relocation plan for residents.

“We have the brochure and the applications,” AHA’s Renee Bentley replied.

Therefore, no, AHA did not have any relocation plans available for residents to inspect at the meeting.

And while a brief pamphlet explaining some basics of the relocation process was distributed, AHA did not have a copy of the demolition application available for the residents to inspect either.

Simms also promised the residents could have a copy of the application in the future.

AHA IGNORES RESIDENT CONCERNS

Despite the fact that AHA will likely send these applications in to HUD as evidence that residents are on board with the demolition campaign, AHA did not take resident concerns into account as part of their purported “consultation” with residents.

For example, one resident asked, “Will we have the opportunity to return?”

“This is not HOPE VI. No, I don’t know what will be,” done with the properties to say whether residents will be able to come back, Simms replied.

“Why we got to move if you don’t have a plan for this property? We want them to tell us. I want to be able to return,” the resident said.

Simms ignored this resident’s concern.

AHA has been holding meetings last week and will hold some next week–announced at the last minute–for Bankhead Courts, Bowen Homes, Herndon Homes, Hollywood Courts, Palmer House, Roosevelt House, Thomasville Heights, and the RAB Board. However, AHA has called many of these meetings themselves and are not meeting with the actual associations in some cases, including Hollywood Courts and the RAB Board.

“We got a flyer Monday evening about a quarter to five [pm]. I didn’t get it, the office did and security passed them out. We’re the representatives for the residents, we speak for the residents, and it’s like they disrespecting us. They’re acting like there’s no association at all. They should notify the Chair, and the officers of the resident association should be able to come and talk and let the residents know what’s going on [at these meetings]. It’s more of a demand from them. They act like they’re the Gestapo, they’re coming in with scare tactics,” Wright said.

“This is our meeting!” Simms reminded residents who wished to make statements at the meetings inconsistent with the agency’s message.

About the author:

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

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