Atlanta Council Asks AHA to Halt Three Demolitions

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(APN) ATLANTA — The full Atlanta City Council approved a resolution Tuesday, January 12, 2008, in a veto-proof vote of 11-2, asking the Atlanta Housing Authority not to proceed with the displacement of residents from certain public housing communities.

The resolution, crafted by Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9), requests relocations for Bowen Homes, Bankhead Courts, and Hollywood Courts be put on hold until affected residents and the City Council receive a copy of the demolition applications to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for review, comment, and consultation.

Supporting the resolution were all Members except Council Members Ivory Lee Young and Cleta Winslow. Not voting were Lisa Borders and Jim Maddox. Kwanza Hall was absent.

Mr. Young’s no vote was surprising given his previous support for a Housing Relocation Task Force; his comments seeming to support Moore’s legal argument; his support for Moore’s bill in Committee; and his co-sponsorship of Moore’s ordinance, which is broader in its scope than the resolution.

The first major substantive bill passed by the Full Council seeking some accountability, public transparency, and resident consultation, its passage was a victory for the residents’ campaign to oppose the demolitions of public housing in Atlanta.

While a resolution is not legally binding upon the Housing Authority, HUD would be unlikely to not consider a dissenting Council in demolition applications where AHA argues it has City support.

The Council also voted to table until the next Full Council Meeting an ordinance, which is broader in its scope than the resolution, also crafted by Moore, giving the City Council a role in providing–or not providing–local government approval for AHA’s proposed demolitions in applications to HUD.

Previously, Atlanta Progressive News revealed in an exclusive report that Mayor Shirley Franklin had been sending in letters to HUD purporting to express support on behalf of the City of Atlanta, without consultation or even awareness of the City Council.

The AHA has expressed vehement opposition to Moore’s bills, calling them a misguided attempt to appease voters in her District, who AHA says she mistakenly believes would be displaced by the demolitions, and replaced by less supportive voters.

“I did not expect to such a tsunami of opposition to this but I guess that means I’m doing something right,” Moore quipped.

Attorneys for AHA and the City maintain the Council has no authority over what the AHA does, and that the Mayor has the sole authority to issue letters of support for AHA initiatives unilaterally, without Council approval.

While AHA is an independent agency, however, HUD does require local government consultation as part of AHA’s preparation of demolition applications.

The law firm McKenna, Long, & Aldridge examined the proposed legislation, especially Moore’s ordinance and gave the opinion that Moore’s proposals are outside the purview of the City Council.

“There would be no public purpose served from a review of lengthy and very technical documents in Committee or City Council meetings,” the AHA wrote in a January 14, 2008, letter to Council President Lisa Borders, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

Furthermore, “such a process would be extremely burdensome to both AHA and the City Council. Such [a] process would be inefficient, time consuming and, in many cases, impossible to administer,” AHA wrote.

Moore does not buy these claims. “I submit if the process is burdensome, inefficient, and time consuming that the AHA come to us on the front end for help, don’t come back to us at the back end after everything has been decided.”

Here, Moore was referring to the millions of dollars the City Council has approved and the $243 million more the Council has been asked by AHA to again approve for the replacement of public housing with mixed-income developments, diverting city funds to build many market-rate units.

“It’s going to be in the vested interest of the City…to be involved in the front end of this process,” Moore added, who has also expressed concerns about the lack of communication between the Housing Authority and the City Council.

Moore believes it is unacceptable for the AHA to tell the City Council what they are doing after they have already done it.

Moore also relayed that Ainars Rodins, the director of the Special Applications Center at HUD in Chicago, told her that HUD would never tell a City how it should run its process of local government consultation, that cities do it differently, and HUD would not be opposed to involvement of the City Council in a process which may result in a letter of support from the Mayor.

Young also emphasized that the bill requires consultation with local government “officialssssssssss,” that is, the plural of the word “official.” Young went on to read HUD’s definition of officials and said HUD allowed the local governing body to appoint who they feel should be involved in a local government consultation process.

During remarks made at the Full Council and CDHR Committee meetings, Young stated the City of Atlanta Department of Planning has a thorough process to ensure any redevelopments in the City have resident support and input. He criticized the notion that residents of public housing communities should receive less consideration than other residents of Atlanta.

The AHA has offered several of its own potential remedies to this problem in its January 14, 2008, letter, including providing quarterly reports to Council regarding relocation of affected residents and AHA’s ongoing initiatives.

Also, the AHA could appear before the CDHR Committee quarterly to review those reports and address questions and concerns.

In a second letter distributed by AHA at the Full Council meeting, they also offered to give Councilwoman Moore three weeks to review the demolition applications for her District, she told Atlanta Progressive News.

After some lengthy debate in Council of the ordinance, Councilman C. T. Martin moved that consideration of the ordinance be moved to the end of the meeting, to allow time for interested parties to caucus and perhaps come up with an alternative agreement. This included Council Members Ceasar Mitchell, Mary Norwood, and Moore, along with representatives from AHA and their attorneys, and the City’s Law Department, Moore said.

At that time, the Council moved on to the resolution, which then passed.

Upon returning to the ordinance at the end of the meeting, Moore suggested the possibility of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would establish a partnership between the Council and the Housing Authority.

One possible feature of the MOU could include a “bifurcated process,” Moore told APN, in which the Mayor could still send her letter of support, but the Council would have their own process to pass their own resolution, either supporting or opposing each demolition application.

Members will discuss the possibility of an MOU over the next two weeks. If Members agree to an MOU with AHA, then the MOU would replace the pending ordinance. If not, the ordinance will return to the Full Council for a vote, Moore told APN.

Several members of the public, including members of the Council on Aging, noted that the City Council of Alexandria, Virginia, and the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority (ARHA) entered into a similar agreement in October 2007.

Several public housing residents and members of the community yielded their public comment time to attorney Lindsay Jones, who represents the residents.

“I do want to point the Council to paragraph 10 under the powers of the Mayor in the City Charter. Which states that the Mayor has, can execute documents, negotiate documents on behalf of the City, but only when authorized by the City Council,” Jones said.

Some members of the public argued the AHA is fighting Moore’s legislation because they do not want any transparency in the process.

“We think it is important to view AHA’s opposition…as a reason to support the legislation,” Anita Beaty, director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said. “Why the fight?”

“Any time someone tells you [that] you can’t look into something they are doing, you must look,” Shirley Hightower, President of the Bowen Homes resident association, said.

Others argued the Council has some power over the AHA, even if they do not think so.

In addition to the approval of funds, “The Mayor appoints the Housing Authority’s Commissioners [and] you confirm,” former City Councilman Derrick Boazman, former Atlanta City Councilman, said. “That gives you some power.”

Boazman added that AHA owes the City $19 million in garbage fees they never collected.

“We’re watching you,” Boazman warned. “I’ll remind people when you had an opportunity to speak with a legitimate voice for the hurting masses, you passed that opportunity up.”

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is the Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com. Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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