State Committee Convenes Hearing on Public Housing
(APN) ATLANTA — The Housing and Economic Development Committee of the Georgia State House of Representatives met Friday, March 07, 2008, to listen to testimony concerning Atlanta’s campaign to demolish all remaining public housing in Atlanta.
“We all knew we had to do something,” State Rep. Mable Thomas, Chair of the Committee, said. “We all sort of came together to see what we could do.”
Several legislators, including State Reps. Margaret Kaiser and Pat Gardner, joined Thomas to hear hours of testimony about the Atlanta Housing Authority’s (AHA) deceptive practices in dealing with public housing residents.
One purpose of the hearing was to document, with a court reporter and video recording, resident and community concerns regarding the demolition applications for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Also, the legislators are considering possible actions they can take to prevent residents from being forcibly displaced and possibly made homeless.
APN’s News Editor, Matthew Cardinale presented an analysis of the demolition applications AHA has drafted for Hollywood Courts, to raise concerns about AHA’s claims that the buildings are obsolete, question where is AHA’s evidence that there are adequate voucher-leasing opportunities for residents, and show that there was a lack of consultation with residents and the public. See: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/news/0303.html
APN is offering an opportunity to our readers to submit their written comments on the demolition applications to HUD. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
“The burden that is about to be placed on [public housing residents] is overwhelming,” Boubacar Sarr, Arts Director for the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said at the hearing.
The AHA is calling for the relocation of 9,600 public housing residents and demolition of over 3,000 units of permanent public housing.
Once gone, this land will be turned over to private developers for redevelopment.
Sarr and Tony Thomas, Public Relations Coordinator for the Task Force, went to Bowen Homes and Hollywood Courts and taped interviews with numerous residents who said they have no idea where they are going, are confused by the process, and are not ready to leave.
“The Housing Authority has been misrepresenting to HUD… that they have consulted with tenants,” Lindsay Jones, an attorney working with public housing residents facing eviction, said.
HUD has yet to approve the AHA’s demolition and relocation plans for the last remaining large family developments in Atlanta as well as two senior highrises: Bankhead Courts, Bowen Homes, Hollywood Courts, Herndon Homes, Thomasville Heights, Palmer House, and Roosevelt House.
APN reported months ago that the AHA included falsified documentation in its application to HUD, including sending in fabricated meeting notes showing they had properly consulted with residents.
While the AHA claims 96 percent of all public housing residents want to move out, Jones said he has collected numerous affidavits from residents of Bowen Homes and Hollywood Courts saying they want more consultation from the AHA.
Also, as previously reported by APN, AHA’s claim is based on AHA asking residents to fill out a 4 inch by six inch card, with the question, “Would you like the opportunity to receive a Housing Choice Voucher?” Residents, who were already told AHA was planning to demolish their homes, likely thought this was their opportunity to sign up for a voucher, not that they were telling HUD they wanted the demolitions to proceed.
Jones urged the Committee to draft emergency legislation calling for a moratorium on all public housing demolition and relocation plans.
THE VOUCHER MYTH
The AHA claims every resident that wants a voucher will receive one and, in turn, be able to find another place to live anywhere they want.
Jones noted vouchers have a life of 90 days, meaning once a resident receives a voucher, she has 90 days to find another place to live or lose the voucher.
He also pointed out that there is only a year-to-year obligation to fund vouchers and a landlord can opt out of accepting the voucher after one year.
“The Housing Authority says it has the authority to extend the life of a voucher beyond 90 days [but] they refuse to put any of these promises in writing that is legally enforceable,” Jones said.
“If the Housing Authority is saying you can move to Buckhead and Druid Hills, it ain’t gonna happen,” Deirdre Oakley, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University who focuses on urban development, said.
Oakley noted that voucher holders are moving into housing primarily in the southeast and southwest portions of Atlanta, which she added are racially segregated with high poverty levels.
“Voucher housing does little to deconcentrate poverty,” she said.
Jones noted moving residents into such neighborhoods could be a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits racial steering in housing opportunities.
“They have treated us almost like we are not human,” Shirley Hightower, President of Bowen Homes resident association, said of the AHA. “They have no respect for anybody.”
Much of the public housing scheduled for demolition rests on land targeted for redevelopment under the Beltline initiative, Jones said.
AHA proposes that private developers receive publicly subsidized land transfers and other public subsidies to assist them in financing and building privately owned mixed-use developments. This includes a recent request to the City of Atlanta for over $250 million.
Jones also urged the Committee to draft legislation that would call for mandatory inclusionary zoning laws that would force developers to set aside 10 to 15 percent of the units in these new developments for low-income residents.
THE HOUSING GAP
It is unclear where public housing residents are expected to live once they are removed from public housing. Atlanta is facing a serious crisis when it comes to affordable housing.
Atlanta currently has an 81,000-unit shortfall for families making under $22,000 and a 137,000-unit shortfall for families making under $40,000, according to a recent study conducted by Georgia Tech.
The AHA has yet to address how it will provide replacement housing that is consistent with the Fair Housing Act.
“What matter of people are we dealing with,” Hightower asked. “Somebody’s got to put these people in check. Somebody must put an end to this demolition plan until we know where we’re going.”
“It’s sad I have to come before you and beg for help,” Hightower told the Committee. “We’re asking you for your help to do all you can. We need someone to step up so we can have some security.”
Dr. Larry Keating, a former Professor of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech, said that the history of public housing demolition in Atlanta has been about gentrification and continued segregation.
Keating suggested the State could provide Housing Authorities with funds directly for housing repairs, as well as restrict any funding to Housing Authorities that actually house low-income people.
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