HUD Grants Approval to Demolish Bowen Homes

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(APN) ATLANTA — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) granted the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) approval June 20, 2008, to move forward with plans to relocate the residents of Bowen Homes and demolish the complex.

The AHA has been working for over a year to demolish Bowen Homes and the other 11 remaining public housing complexes under their jurisdiction. Five were demolished last year, leaving seven left, including Bowen.

As this story went to press, APN received unconfirmed reports that HUD has now also approved demolishing Bankhead Courts, Herndon Homes, Hollywood Courts, and Thomasville Heights, the last of the family developments. If the information is confirmed, this would leave just two senior high-rises–Palmer House and Roosevelt House–under consideration with HUD.

There are about a dozen additional senior high-rises and small developments not affected by the demolition plans. AHA’s director, Renee Glover, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) newspaper, these would not be set for demolition; however, AHA requested City funds for redevelopment at these sites and suggested possible demolitions even for these communities at its most recent annual public hearing.

If successful, AHA would become the first large city in the United States to demolish all of its public housing communities.

The AHA submitted the Bowen Homes application March 17, 2008, to HUD, arguing that Bowen Homes has become physically obsolete, meaning that it would cost too much to renovate; and that it has become a haven for violence and crime.

“It don’t surprise me in a way but I expected HUD to take a look a little deeper than they did,” Shirley Hightower, President of the Bowen Homes resident association, told APN.

Hightower believes the AHA exaggerated its crime statistics and added that crime committed on the site is perpetrated by outside individuals.

The City Council of Atlanta had approved two resolutions in February 2008 proposed by Councilwoman Felicia Moore, providing for increased oversight of AHA’s demolition applications.

The first resolution had allowed Moore one month to review the applications for Bankhead, Bowen, and Hollywood. Moore reviewed the applications and asked questions, but said she was not satisfied with the answers. Moore did not take any additional action after that point, telling APN she was fed up with AHA, and that she would address them again when they sought more funding from the City.

The second resolution, accepting measures volunteered by AHA, allowed the Community Resources and Human Development Committee (CDHR) three weeks to review all other demolition applications, which AHA never provided. APN made the Committee aware of this but no Members ever took action.

The second resolution also provided that AHA would hold quarterly presentations for CDHR. These presentations never occurred. Councilman Ivory Young told APN he inquired to AHA as to when the date of the first one would be, but never advised of one being scheduled. AHA was also supposed to hold two public hearings which never occurred.

Meanwhile, APN had sent in 82 questions to AHA, which they never answered. HUD promised resident leaders in writing this spring that the demolitions would not be approved until all the questions were answered. Neither APN nor residents have received the answers to the questions to date.

QUESTIONS LINGER OVER PHYSICAL OBSOLESCENCE

The AHA concluded, and HUD concurred, that it would be more cost effective to demolish Bowen Homes than redesign and rehabilitate the complex, according to a copy of a letter from HUD’s Special Applications Center (SAC) in Chicago, to HUD’s Atlanta Office of Public Housing, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

However, HUD’s concurrence raises serious questions about its implementation of its own rules regarding physical obsolescence.

As previously reported by APN, AHA submitted inflated renovation budgets for multiple communities to make the cost of renovation seem unaffordable. They did this by including interior and exterior renovations to bring the units up to market standards as well as numerous luxury and aesthetic amenities.

Meanwhile, HUD instructs AHA to provide renovation budgets for HUD’s analysis, which include a reasonable program of modifications to bring the community back to “useful life,” not market standards.

AHA initially placed the cost of redesigning and rehabilitating Bowen Homes at $103,351,472.

HUD’s SAC conducted a tour of the facility April 30, 2008, through May 2, 2008.

“In summary, all major electrical and mechanical systems need upgrading and a central air conditioning system should replace the window-mounted units (these units were purchased by individual residents),” according to HUD’s approval letter. “None of the buildings’ units comply with Section 504 requirements and the physical design makes retrofitting nearly impossible without major rehabilitation.”

Lindsay Jones, an Atlanta attorney who has been working with public housing residents for several months, attributed any disrepair at Bowen Homes to the lack of care and attention paid by the AHA over the years more than anything else.

While federal funding for public housing has decreased by 20% under the Bush Administration, AHA has increased revenue from its own residents by raising their rents; therefore, AHA has chosen to spend money on demolitions instead of improvements.

After the SAC inspection, the AHA removed “several ineligible items” from its estimate, such as a swimming pool, microwave range hoods, dishwashers, garbage disposals, and “other amenities and luxury items.” This suggests that HUD took some notice of the questions raised by APN.

However, HUD allowed AHA to continue to include market-based improvements which are not based on any deficiencies with the buildings. “The exterior design readily identifies this site as public housing. Redesigning the exterior will require additions to the rear of the buildings, defined off-street parking, new fencing, sidewalks, and rear patios,” HUD wrote.

“In order to make the units marketable, a redesign of the interior units is required since the bedrooms are too small by today’s standards, a separate dining area is needed for larger families, and all kitchens and bathrooms will require upgrading,” HUD wrote.

Still, with the swimming pool and other luxury items taken out, the new cost fell to $72,649,543 with a separate cost for redesign that totaled $27,694,525.

Then, “the SAC modified the revised cost estimates by adjusting the quantity of interior doors, windows, light fixtures, and the demolition of some interior doors,” according to HUD’s approval letter. “The SAC also removed the rehabilitation cost for an administration and community building as [HUD] is comparing the rehabilitation cost with [Total Development Cost] TDC of units only.”

As a result, the adjusted cost fell to $66,588,209, which is 58.90 percent of the Total Development Cost (TDC) limit. Regulations do not permit HUD to consider modifications cost effective if the modifications exceed 57.14 percent of the TDC at the time the application is submitted.

Thus, if the cost had been slightly lower–which it would have been by far if the exterior and interior market-based modifications were excluded–the demolitions could not have been approved.

RELOCATION

The relocation of remaining residents at Bowen Homes is expected to begin in July and will take approximately 12 to 18 months to complete. Relocation is expected to cost $5,718,120, which includes moving expenses for each family as well as staff salaries for relocation teams.

Hightower told APN residents are scared and uncertain of the future.

“They’re not ready to leave but yet they want to go,” she said. “They don’t have the means to go.”

As previously reported in APN, while the majority of residents attending association meetings at Bowen Homes and Bankhead Courts say they want to move, this does not reflect all of the communities. The majority of residents at Hollywood Courts and Palmer House have signed petitions stating they do not want to move. APN has no information regarding the wishes of residents at Herndon Homes, Thomasville Heights, or Roosevelt House.

The AHA said it will give residents Housing Choice vouchers that will allow them to move elsewhere. Complaints on these vouchers have included: not every resident that wants one has received one, residents are having a hard time finding another place to live, and some landlords do not take the vouchers.

Hightower told APN that those who have moved elsewhere on Housing Choice Vouchers are having a hard time adjusting.

“Most of the people I talk to on Section 8, it’s not the rent, it’s the utility bills that whip them,” Hightower said. “In public housing, you get behind in rent, at least you get to catch up on your late fees. You’re in Section 8, you don’t pay your rent, you’re gone.”

Once all the residents are gone, AHA can begin demolishing Bowen Homes at an estimated cost of $5,850,000. The AHA plans to submit a Request for Proposal (RFP) to Atlanta’s developer and investor community to build a mixed-use, mixed-income development.

AHA is no longer required to provide one-for-one replacement housing and HUD is not obligated to fund replacement housing due to changes in federal law over the last few years.

Jones told APN that HUD did not look close enough at the AHA’s relocation plan, which he argues violates the US Fair Housing Act, which HUD enforces.

Jones, along with other individuals and groups, submitted evidence along with the AHA application that he said proves the violation.

“It’s obviously surprising to receive notice of HUD’s approvalÂ… in light of all this evidence given to HUD,” he told APN.

Jones and Hightower contend that under AHA’s relocation plan, residents are either being moved from one public housing complex to another or placed in areas that are socially and economically segregated without access to good jobs, schools, or retail opportunities.

“I want to know, where are they going?” Hightower asked, adding the new places are “no better than where they left from.”

No resident should be relocated until the AHA brings its relocation plans in accordance with the Fair Housing Act, Jones said.

Advocates will take this complaint to the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office (FHEO) within HUD’s Atlanta regional office for an appeal and also pursue other legal options.

RESIDENT CONSULTATION

HUD decided the AHA has met the requirements for resident consultation as required by federal law.

“In the application, the AHA states that they have worked diligently to keep AHA-assisted residents and the resident leadership fully informed of its plans for relocation and demolition and has engaged in significant consultation with residents and resident leaders to ensure that their questions, suggestions, and concerns have been addressed,” according to HUD’s approval letter.

The approval letter noted the AHA met with the Bowen Homes Resident Association April 26, July 26, and December 11, 2007; and with the Jurisdiction Wide Resident Council (JWRC) or Resident Advisory Board (RAB) on April 12, 2006, and February 14 and December 18, 2007.

While AHA has met with residents, these meetings involve AHA telling residents their plans, not asking residents their wishes. Also, AHA did not modify its plans to address any resident concerns.

APN previously reported the AHA sent in a false agenda and minutes for the February 14, 2007 JWRC meeting along with five demolition applications to HUD. While the matter was referred to the HUD’s Office of the Inspector General, the OIG never contacted APN about it, and the SAC did not even mention the issue in their letter. AHA submitted the same fabricated documents to HUD again in these applications.

APN had provided HUD’s SAC with a copy of the forged and original documents by certified mail.

Moreover, the SAC did not mention the fact that the Resident Advisory Board had adopted a resolution opposing the demolitions, even though a copy of this resolution was also sent certified.

The application also noted several other meetings: April 4, 2006 (initial meeting to discuss demolition and relocation plans); April 18, 2006 (public hearing on 2007 annual plan at Atlanta City Hall; and April 19, 2007 (public hearing to discuss 2008 annual plan).

HUD also acknowledged receiving e-mails, faxes, and written comments from residents and other concerned groups and individuals who oppose the AHA’s relocation/demolition plans, but did not comment on what it saw.

Several of the acknowledged comments were from APN readers, who sent emails to APN for forwarding to HUD. These APN readers who HUD acknowledged were Alan M. Harris, John R. Caruso, and Elisabeth Omilami, Executive Director of Hosea Feed the Hungry.

HUD also acknowledged letters from the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless and attorney Lindsay Jones; receipt of APN’s analysis; and receipts of letters from three resident presidents, Elaine “9X” Osby of Cosby Spears, Eleanor Rayton of Palmer House, and Diane Wright of Hollywood Courts and the RAB Board. APN had assisted the three Presidents in articulating their concerns.

“I’m not pleased with it at all,” Hightower said of HUD’s decision. “I haven’t given up. We’re not through with them at all.”

Diane Wright declined to be interviewed for this article.

About the author:

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