ANALYSIS: AHA Demolition Applications Raise Questions

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(APN) ATLANTA — Public housing demolition applications to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for all the remaining large family developments in Atlanta raise serious questions about Atlanta Housing Authority’s arguments that the buildings are physically obsolete, about where the displaced residents would be going, and about the agency’s lack of resident and public consultation, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

APN intensively reviewed the demolition application for Hollywood Courts, about 1,000 pages long, having obtained a copy of that and two other applications, for Bankhead Courts and Bowen Homes, from City Councilwoman Felicia Moore.

APN is offering an opportunity to our readers to submit their written comments on the demolition applications to HUD. Please email them to demolitioninput@gmail.com. APN will bundle them together on April 01, 2008, and forward them to HUD, seeing as how AHA never solicited public input regarding the applications.

The applications are online for review at: http://www.homelesstaskforce.org/demolitions.html

Moore received the three applications for about one month of review from AHA after the City Council of Atlanta approved last month a resolution, overriding a veto from Mayor Shirley Franklin, asking AHA to provide Moore the applications for review and comment. Moore introduced the legislation after APN fought to obtain five previous applications in 2007 from AHA and HUD, who would not release them voluntarily. Those applications showed, among other things, Mayor Franklin had been signing off on the demolitions without Council knowledge, review, or input.

About two weeks ago, Moore also sent questions about the applications to AHA, which they will answer at Tuesday’s Community Development and Human Resources Committee meeting of the City Council, March 11, 2008 at 1230pm. Moore said the meeting was scheduled even though she will be out of town that day.

As to whether the answers will be satisfactory, “I don’t know. I will have to watch the tape and I understand Ms. Glover sent some information to me Friday afternoon. They waited to the very last second to respond to me. They didn’t leave me any time to do anything about it and I’m not happy about that,” Councilwoman Moore told APN.

APN submitted a 19 page letter about the applications, including 82 questions and several comments, to AHA, Friday, March 07, 2008; APN copied HUD on the letter. Councilwoman Moore also forwarded these to AHA. AHA has not yet responded.

AHA BY-PASSED COUNCIL ON FOUR APPLICATIONS

APN can reveal that AHA has already submitted demolition applications in early February 2008 for two senior highrises, Palmer House and Roosevelt House, and two family developments, Herndon Homes and Thomasville Heights. APN will be discussing the senior highrise situation further in an upcoming article.

However, AHA appears to have submitted the applications to HUD improperly, while at the same time deceiving the City Council that the CD/HR Committee would receive copies for review at least three weeks prior to submission to HUD.

On February 04, 2008, the Full Council unanimously approved a resolution incorporating the following promise by AHA:

“AHA will provide to CD/HR Committee of city council a draft copy of any proposed demolition/disposition application, that, when implemented, would result in the permanent relocation of the majority of the affected families from an AHA development, at least three weeks before AHA submits the application to HUD,” (AHA Letter to Felicia Moore and City Council, 2/4/08).

One of the four applications was received by HUD on February 05, 2008, according to HUD’s website, after the resolution, which incorporated the above letter, was approved unanimously by Council. The others were received on February 01, 2008, while AHA was still in negotiations with Felicia.

“I think it goes to good faith. They were negotiating this, but I don’t know if they did anything other than what they intended to do,” Lindsay Jones, private attorney for the residents, including the Resident Advisory Board and Hollywood Courts resident association, said. “Everything they did appears to be for political cover.”

Eleanor Rayton, President of the Palmer House resident association, said she was left stranded by the Office of Councilman Ivory Lee Young, who has publicly made many comments concerning the senior relocations, after AHA sent representatives to Palmer House, asking them to sign letters the seniors did not understand.

“It was an assistant to him, the lady who I talked to. I called his office and she called me back. She said, they did not have anything to do with what Housing do. And Housing didn’t have to come through them for nothing,” Rayton told Atlanta Progressive News.

“Well I feel like that was a let down to the residents and I felt like we just didn’t have nobody to help us,” Rayton said, adding she was surprised “and I was very disappointed.”

Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who is on the CD/HR Committee and exploring a run for Mayor in 2009, did not return a voice message left by APN over a week ago concerning the senior citizens.

BOGUS JUSTIFICATION FOR DEMOLITIONS

Justification for the demolitions is one of the major problems with the application for Hollywood Courts, reviewed by APN.

In order to justify the demolition of Hollywood Courts, AHA argues the demolition meets the Two Part Obsolescence Test, and certifies that “the project… is obsolete as to physical condition, location, or other factors, making it unsuitable for housing purposes, and no reasonable program of modifications is cost-effective to return the public housing project or portion of the project to useful life,” (Application Form, Pages 4-5).

AHA provides a report by Praxis 3 architectural firm to argue that it is more cost effective to tear down and completely rebuild Hollywood Courts (HC), than to refurbish the existing structures, in order to provide the figures on Page 5 of the application.

AHA and Praxis 3 argue that it would cost 1.9% more to refurbish HC than to completely tear it down and start anew, aside from the fact that Hollywood Courts residents would not be living at the new site in the latter scenario.

AHA and Praxis 3 state it would cost $32,858,073 to refurbish HC and $32,248,700 to tear it down and rebuild.

This argument is extremely problematic based on how Praxis 3 calculates the cost of refurbishing HC as well as the “obsolescence report,” which states that the buildings are structurally sound.

As to the obsolescence report, AHA claimed in its resolution to demolish HC on January 17, 2008, that “the Hollywood Courts buildings continue to deteriorate steadily and are in a condition of severe physical distress.”

AHA claimed in its attachment for Section 6, Line 1: “The report details the physical obsolescence of the property.”

However, Praxis 3’s report states “The buildings, with exceptions noted below, are structurally sound,” (p. 3). The only structural issues raised are pest infestation and “that the storm sewer system is overflowing during heavy rains,” the latter of which is not an issue with the buildings but an issue with the City which would affect any rebuilt property as well (p. 3).

Praxis 3 does not even use the term physical obsolescence. They use the term “market obsolescence.”

Praxis 3 indicates what they mean by market obsolescence when they describe their recommendations for bringing HC up to market standards. “Local Market studies indicate that each unit should have dedicated water heater and HVAC systems with air conditioning,” instead of wall units, (p. 2).

“Market analyses indicate the existing units are too small. An addition to the rear of the units provides for the inclusion of the new mechanical room, enlargement of kitchen/dining areas, rearrangement and enlargement of bedroom/closet areas, and an additional bathroom,” (p. 2).

A closer examination of the numbers reveals that AHA’s submission highly inflates the cost of refurbishing Hollywood Courts, thus making its cost-comparison to demolishing HC fallacious and deceptive.

HUD requires AHA undertake an analysis of the cost of refurbishing, it asks for a “reasonable program of modifications… to return the public housing project or portion of the project to useful life;” not market conditions, but “useful life”; not a list of ideal add-ons, aesthetics, and luxury amenities, but “a reasonable program of modifications.”

In order to argue the buildings are physically obsolete and deteriorating, AHA said they would forcibly displace residents because AHA could not afford about $338,350 for landscaping, $60,600 for play areas, $25,000 for new site furnishings, $330,000 for new swimming pool, $25,000 for new athletic amenities, $15,000 for vehicular gates when these already exist, $194,000 for a new perimeter fence when this already exists, $171,000 for adding concrete patios, $303,000 for privacy fences and gates, $404,000 for upgrading existing exterior finishes, $707,000 for new roofing, $2,727,000 for new front porches, $300,000 for a new management center, when this already exists, $190,000 for new community center, when this already exists, $931,826 for new carpet, when carpet not mentioned in report, $487,830 for new doors inside, $397,940 for new doors outside, $401,576 for door hardware, $1,272,600 for new glaze windows, $202,808 for new mini blinds, $404,000 for new stair treads and railings, plus new walls, kitchen and bathroom renovations, new closet walls, constructing additions to the rear of units, central air and heat, new water heaters, and washer/dryer hookups.

When subtracting items in Praxis 3’s analysis that appear to be unnecessary and unreasonable towards addressing the minimal physical issues laid out in its analysis, the actual cost to refurbish HC is only a fraction of the cost to develop a new property, and is likely less than the cost of relocating residents.

AHA appears to have put all of these expenses in there to make it seem like it’s more expensive to fix it up than tear it down, to make a false case for obsolescence to HUD.

RELOCATION PLANS: WHERE ARE THEY GOING?

The main question that is not addressed in these relocation plans is: Where is AHA’s evidence that there are available voucher-leasing opportunities for the residents who would be displaced?

HUD asks a Housing Authority in the relocation plans to “describe, generally, the availability of rental housing to voucher holders in the metropolitan area over the planned period of relocation. What is the vacancy rate? Is there a shortage of such housing?”

In AHA’s answer they write, “Atlanta has experienced a soft rental market for the past several years. According to REIS Rental Market Data, there were approximately 3,564 property vacancies in the Atlanta/Fulton submarket, and over 28,767 vacancies in the metro Atlanta area as of mid-year 2007,” (Relocation Plan, Page 10).

However, this data gives property vacancies, not, as HUD inquires, “availability of rental housing to voucher holders.” A listing of vacant properties does not even mean that those units are affordable, and therefore able to be covered under the limits on the vouchers established by AHA under the voucher program.

In a meeting AHA held with resident leaders in December 2007, City Councilwoman Felicia Moore requested copies of “studies” that AHA alleged having from their developer partners showing that there are available housing opportunities.

“Your comment was the developers have insured [sic] you that there are enough units within the city of Atlanta. Well, I’d like to see that documentation from developers. You said you’ve done these studies. I’d like to see those studies,” Councilwoman Moore said on December 18, 2007.

“All right. Well, we’ll work with you on that and I’m sure you can get some closure,” AHA Director Renee Glover said.

Councilwoman Moore has still yet to receive those studies that AHA promised regarding available units.

Deirdre Oakley, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University has produced a report, of which APN has obtained a copy, showing that those landlords in Atlanta who do accept vouchers tend to be spatially clustered in regions that are almost all majority Black, have high poverty rates, high unemployment rates, and high rates of single mothers.

Oakley’s research is based on data from HUD regarding voucher leasing-opportunities contained in a 2000 HUD report called Picture of Subsidized Housing.

This counters AHA’s claims that residents have the “choice” to stay in the City and move where they want. Also, it contradicts the notion that any substantial de-concentration of poverty or “quality of life” improvements are occurring for public housing residents.

Oakley found that in the geographical clusters in Atlanta where there’s high percentage of voucher housing: 94% of the clusters are majority Black, poverty rate is 35%, 61% female headed households, 19% unemployment. The majority of the vouchers are in Southeast and Southwest Atlanta.

“All of the Section 8 opportunities are within the African American community. Demolishing… only reinforces the segregated policies of the past. They haven’t demonstrated how they’re going to promote and secure Fair Housing Opportunities. That’s what their relocation plan is missing,” Jones told APN.

“They certify this plan is going to be consistent with the Fair Housing Act. Based on Deirdre’s analysis, that doesn’t appear possible,” Jones said. “They’re going to steer those tenants, based on the market, back into those communities. You cannot require landlords outside these areas to take those vouchers. If you offer incentives to landlords who aren’t interested in affordable housing, because of social concerns, they’re maintaining discriminatory practices. Those incentives aren’t enough to overcome this.”

While AHA argues there is available rental housing in Atlanta, “There’s been a surplus in more affluent apartments, of $1500-2000 per month. The question is whether the landlords will take in Section 8 certificates. First, they’d have to come down in rents,” Jones said.

“Are the management companies and investors that built them going to have the political will to put people of low-income who have been marginalized for some time in the same buildings with people who pay cash for their rent? And driving people with discriminatory fears out of those complexes, turning those apartments into Section 8 rental? I don’t think they’re going to do that historically. Why would that change? Because the Housing Authority wanted to happen?” Jones said.

There is a lack of affordable housing available in Atlanta, according to a study by David Sawicki at Georgia Tech University City and Planning Department.

“The City of Atlanta has a deficiency in affordable housing of approximately 137,191 units. Fifty-nine percent (81,191 units) of this housing deficiency represents units having rents less than $600 per month,” the Sawicki report states.

AHA writes that public housing residents with a criminal background will not be eligible for a voucher but will receive a one-time payment, the amount of which is not disclosed in the application.

AHA does not address what will happen to residents with poor credit who are not able to obtain a lease in the private market, except to say that they will receive counseling. However, counseling may not be enough if people truly have bad credit that cannot be repaired in a short time.

AHA also states residents will have 90 days to find a place to live with the voucher, but does not specify what will happen to a resident who does not find a place to live within that time frame.

AHA stated during the consultation with resident leaders at the Loudermilk Center on December 18, 2007, that it currently uses hotel rooms for residents who are not able to be successfully relocated. It is unclear how many hotel rooms AHA has booked for displaced residents so far and at what cost to taxpayers.

LACK OF RESIDENT CONSULTATION

As APN has reported previously in depth, AHA continues to proceed with its plans without having had meaningful consultation with residents.

According to AHA: “During one of these [consultation] meetings, AHA polled the residents as to their preference to either remain at Hollywood Court or to receive a Housing Choice Voucher to relocate. One hundred percent (100%) of the 22 residents attending the meeting and participating in the survey expressed their desire to receive a voucher to relocate out of the community.”

However, the survey consists a 4 inch by 6 inch card which states: “Please check your answer to the following question: Would you like the opportunity to receive a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV). Yes. No.”

Thus, it is completely deceptive of AHA to state as it does in the application to HUD that it polled residents whether they want to stay in HC or move. Staying in HC was not an option included in AHA’s so-called survey. The poll did not even ask them if they wanted to move.

“We did the surveys, these four by six cards, do you want an opportunity? We’ve been brainwashing you about the demolitions. Do you want a lifeline or not?” Jones said of AHA and the cards. “They create events and then they interpret them.”

However, only two cards were provided in the applications and Diane Wright, President of Hollywood Courts and the RAB Board, says her residents left the cards on the floor when they came in April 2007. She says they did not come in July 2007, although AHA claims they did.

A vast majority of residents of Hollywood Courts have signed a petition stating that they do not want to move and support legal action to prevent them from having to move, which have already been sent certified to HUD. APN obtained a recent copy of the petition with 115 signatures.

AHA promised to provide the resident leaders with copies of the demolition applications and transcripts from the meetings in the various public housing communities at a December 18, 2007, meeting. AHA has failed to provide these documents to the resident leaders.

As previously reported by APN, AHA states they consulted with the RAB Board on February 14, 2007. However, as APN has already documented to HUD, the minutes provided by AHA are not the actual minutes of the RAB Board. AHA’s Barney Simms has already admitted this. However, AHA included the fabricated Minutes again in this round of applications to HUD.

AHA provided the following description as a summary of all comments and concerns received by HC residents: They wanted to know exactly how the voucher program works. They expressed concern for paying utilities. And “Hollywood Court residents expressed a desire to move earlier than AHA’s proposed relocation start date.”

A review of the applications for Bowen Homes and Bankhead Courts shows that AHA used the exact same language to summarize the alleged three concerns of all three resident associations.

That there would be no variation at all between the three is highly unlikely.

AHA did not include a copy of the RAB Board resolution opposing the demolitions in the application.

AHA stated they would submit the demolition applications after March 10, 2008, to HUD. It usually takes HUD between two and four months to review an application. Residents are currently working with their attorney to file for an injunction. Meanwhile, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has been collecting video statements and written affidavits from residents.

About the author:

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

Revised syndication policy:

Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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