Third AHA Whistleblower Raises Concerns over Relocation

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(APN) ATLANTA — A third former AHA employee or contractor approached Atlanta Progressive News in May 2008 with concerns about what relocation opportunities existed for residents being evicted by Atlanta Housing Authority as part of its public housing demolition initiative.

[The first whistleblower, Anthony Bostic, told APN last year how AHA was underpaying families on their utility allowances and that he was fired for bringing it to AHA’s attention. The second, Christopher Anderson, told APN he had terminated the vouchers of dozens of families and that he knew it was because the utility allowances were insufficient.]

The latest whistleblower, a former consultant with Draper and Draper, who had a contract to do relocation work for the Atlanta Housing Authority, was granted anonymity by Atlanta Progressive News because he does not want to jeopardize other job opportunities he may have in Atlanta.

He says he believes he lost his job when Barney Simms, Vice President for External Affairs, did not like him questioning various aspects of AHA’s efforts.

The consultant, whose title was “manager of landlord services,” had been working on a program to identify new voucher leasing opportunities for residents by developing partnerships between AHA, realtors, and banks. “I was creating a landlord marketing division,” the source said in May.

“What I was doing when my contract was terminated, I was working with a few banks in town. They offered to get properties in Section 8 ready condition based on AHA’s standards and lease those properties to tenants. At the same time I was bringing in Georgia real estate developers,” he said in a follow-up interview today.

First, the former consultant said that Atlanta Housing Authority’s own data regarding the 2007 evictions of Jonesboro North, Jonesboro South, Leila Valley, Inglewood Manor, and U-Rescue Villa, shows that almost 80% of those residents relocated to the Southwest submarket of Atlanta, where neighborhoods are characterized by high poverty rates and majority Black neighborhoods.

“That was based on statistics they had gathered from the end of phase 1, as they tracked data and did their trend analysis; it was between 76 and 78 percent I believe,” the consultant told Atlanta Progressive News in the follow-up interview.

This undermines AHA’s claim that residents being evicted under its so-called Quality of Life Initiative are being relocated in order to deconcentrate poverty.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, a study by Deirdre Oakley, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University, shows that HUD’s listing of voucher-leasing opportunities, based on 2000 data, is also associated with high poverty, majority-Black neighborhoods in Atlanta.

Thus, the former AHA contractor who spoke with APN provided testimony to suggest that nothing has changed since 2000, and that AHA’s mass eviction policies are continuing to result in a re-concentration, rather than a de-concentration of poverty.

The consultant also said the influx of former public housing residents into Southwest Atlanta had the effect of dramatically decreasing the going rental rate in the area.

“I had at-length discussions with several people about that,” he said.

“The problem they were running into, the properties would normally get $1250 per month rent, for two bedroom homes in the Southwest market. What was now happening, these homes were coming in at $850 to $950. My question was why, and what happened with the $300 decrease in just a year?”

The answer had to do with the way AHA was calculating the amount of voucher payments they would make in various neighborhoods, or “submarkets,” around Atlanta.

AHA received regulatory flexibility under the Move-to-Work federal demonstration program which allowed them to use payment standards different from those used by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

AHA submitted to HUD in its recent round of demolition applications a chart that they say represents the amount they would pay for a unit depending on the submarket and number of bedrooms.

However, the former consultant to AHA told APN that in actuality, AHA determines each property’s maximum voucher payment by going on to the website, GoSection8.com, and taking the average of comparable properties in the same area.

This process does not necessarily produce an estimate of actual market rent in an area because landlords who list their properties on GoSection8.com do not necessarily mirror all landlords in an area.

“I tell you [a tenant], you qualify for a 4 bedroom. You find a 4 bedroom. You get the paperwork filled out by the landlord and they bring it back. They [AHA] use Go Section8.com. They pull whatever comparable properties are in that area,” the former consultant said.

“The federal standards may have that a 4 bedroom is $1200. If they pull these comparable properties and find three comps that only pay 850, well, guess what you get,” he said.

Several AHA voucher-holders and residents have told APN that the vouchers come without a dollar amount on them.

What this means is, the residents are not typically provided with information about what amount AHA will pay in the various submarkets, and that therefore they have to attempt to find a landlord in 90 days or less by trial-and-error.

Meanwhile, landlords were desperate to accept the voucher payments, even if they were for amounts lower than they were expecting, because of the subprime mortgage crisis where many landlords’ adjustable mortgage interest rates had already, or were about to, reset, and they needed a steady income.

This was compounded, the source said, by the fact that it takes AHA, on average, five weeks to review a landlord’s paperwork. By the time that was completed, the landlord felt additional pressure to accept the voucher payment.

“Are you [the landlord] in a position to go through the process of 5 weeks and find out you can’t get the money you want and now you have to advertise on the open market and who knows when you’re gonna get somebody?” the source said.

“Up front they [landlords] had no way of knowing,” how much AHA would pay, he said. “It drove the market down,” he said.

“The landlords were having to take the lower amount because of their financial situation in relation to their mortgage. The number of moves; the impact of lifestyle on the property; and external conditions in the mortgage industry… You [AHA] were giving me [landlord] $1200, now you’re giving me 900, I have to get what I can because my mortgage is about to adjust,” he said.

The former consultant for AHA said that in the current round of evictions that AHA is steering residents into apartment complexes or “multifamily communities,” based on the idea that the residents will do better in a multifamily environment.

“I’ve been told that we want to move them to multifamily communities. I said that’s a fair housing violation because housing choice says they move where they want to move,” he said.

“I was told specifically, there was to be a concentrated effort to find multifamily units in the City of Atlanta. What I focused on was single family. When we came out of those meetings, as I was told, these people ‘tend to do better’ in multifamily communities; in other words, apartment complexes,” he said.

“That’s where I had a problem because you’re telling me one of the primary objectives is to deconcentrate poverty, but you want me to move them from Bowen Homes to another apartment complex? That’s not de-concentration, that’s relocation,” he said.

“I had a problem with that,” he said.

The source also commented on a previous article by APN regarding the Empire Board of Realtors. Previously, an APN operative had confirmed with the Empire Board in May 2008 that they were working with AHA to identify voucher leasing opportunities, and that they had only found 700 units out of 2000 units needed, a shortage of 1,300 units.

“It was intriguing to read about the 1300 units,” the source said back in May. “I was working with AHA specifically in that effort. I don’t believe they’re really trying to serve the people.”

The Empire Board never did come up with a list of 2000 units, the source now says, even though five of seven demolitions were approved by HUD and HUD was made aware of AHA’s shortage of units.

“Some of their [the Board’s] numbers have been inflated,” the source said.  “They say they have 200 realtors but they can only hold 60 at a time in a meeting room. They only had about 125 active on the roll and you had to be active to participate.”

“That was one of the issues I brought to the attention of AHA. Atlanta doesn’t have the inventory on the open market at any given time to have 2000 properties,” the source said.

“We did a little research, went to Apartment Finders, Craigslist, the AJC, and Georgia MLS for a couple months, and we would be able to put together 600 properties at any one time. You’d get 150 on each source- just rentals,” he said, adding these were not necessarily units where a landlord would accept a voucher.

“We have to go into DeKalb and [other areas in Fulton], because we don’t have enough units in Atlanta,” the source said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale, News Editor, is reachable is matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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