GSU Study Recommends: Keep Some Public Housing
(APN) ATLANTA — Georgia State University Assistant Professors in Sociology, Erin Ruel and Deirdre Oakley, have released a preliminary report recommending, among other things, that some public housing units in Atlanta be kept open for residents who do not want to move or have issues preventing them from being successful in a private market housing situation.
THE REPORT’S FINDINGS
“Do not demolish all the remaining family public housing,” the authors wrote.
“Keep some units available for low-income residents who have no other options. Another option would be to develop some form of transitional public housing for those who lose their homes or jobs due to economic downturns, who need a short-term helping hand,” they added.
“Give the residents who want to move to private-market housing a voucher but provide other options for those who do not, particularly those with special needs. Other options could include building replacement housing, or upgrading existing public housing units,” they said.
The reports also recommends keeping senior housing open in Atlanta, according to a copy obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.
The report, “A Choice with No Options: Atlanta Public Housing Residents’ Lived Experiences in the Face of Relocation,” is the result of almost 1.5 years of work, including interviewing 347 families and seniors in the public housing communities currently facing demolition in Atlanta.
Several faculty members and dozens of graduate students worked on the research project, which the Atlanta Housing Authority actively worked to sabotage.
In full disclosure, while the report does not mention this, the report came out of a research exploration group convened by the present writer in October 2007, in the former capacity as a sociology graduate student [currently on leave].
The present writer invited a group of faculty and graduate students to meet with Resident Advisory Board President Diane Wright to discuss research opportunities involving AHA’s campaign to close all remaining Atlanta family public housing and some senior highrises.
Further, it was the RAB Board’s resolution that gave the researchers access to the sites, despite AHA’s fierce opposition.
Although this also is not mentioned in the report, certain questions in the report were co-written by resident leader Diane Wright, particularly involving residents’ preferences.
As part of those questions, GSU researchers asked the residents they interviewed whether they wanted to move or stay.
This was important because AHA makes the ludicrous claim that 96% of its residents want to move, although as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, this is based on AHA’s misleading cards distributed to residents.
According to the findings, “Not everyone wants to move; there is a large discrepancy based on age, tenure and circumstances. While 62% of family housing residents want to move, only 34% of senior housing residents do.”
“Given the option to fix-up their communities versus relocate, almost 60% of senior housing residents and 35% of family housing residents would prefer this option,” the report says.
The report also finds that public housing served as a housing option of last resort for many families interviewed; and that most families had concerns about transportation, affording rent on the private market, and finding a place to live.
“Likewise, we found that there is financial security in public housing because it is so affordable. By and large the residents we interviewed were able to live within their means in public housing even though their monthly incomes were extremely low. Will subsidized private-market housing offer equivalent financial security? Even residents who want to move have concerns about increased living expenses once relocated.”
OPPOSITION TO STUDY BY AHA
The Atlanta Housing Authority did not support the study and actively engaged in a campaign to sabotage the research and discredit the researchers.
Initially, AHA contacted top officials at GSU and attempted to lobby them to stop the research; however, GSU did not back down because the study had already been vetted for human subjects protection by the university’s Institutional Review Board.
In one letter viewed by APN, AHA accused the GSU team of being biased because Prof. Oakley presented data regarding voucher leasing opportunities in Atlanta at AHA’s annual Move-to-Work public hearing.
In another letter obtained by APN, AHA accused GSU researchers of being biased because attorney Lindsay Jones, who’s been working with resident leaders, sent a copy of Oakley’s voucher report to a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. Not surprisingly, the AJC declined to cover Oakley’s 2007 report.
On the first day of research at Bowen Homes, APN witnessed as Atlanta police officers circled by the research site dozens of times and stopped to ask GSU researchers for a copy of their study.
According to Shirley Hightower, resident president at Bowen Homes, AHA told her residents at a meeting not to participate in the study.
AHA appears to have learned about the study when residents received a letter in the mail from Georgia State University and began asking AHA about it.
GSU researchers decided early on not to ask AHA for permission due to the lack of time and their doubts that AHA would give permission.
At another day of research at Palmer House, AHA refused to allow GSU researchers into the building. When Eleanor Rayton, resident president, brought senior residents downstairs to complete the surveys on the public sidewalk, AHA wrote Rayton up for a lease violation.
APN obtained a copy of the lease violation write-up and photographs of interviews being conducted on the sidewalk from Rayton.
Rayton believes AHA tried to intimidate her and her residents. However, to date, despite the write-up, Rayton has not been threatened with any actions by AHA.
AHA also locked residents of Palmer House out of their own community center in one weekend in April 2008 when they apparently believed GSU researchers were coming there, Rayton said.
It is around that time that AHA changed the locks on the community center in Hollywood Courts, preventing residents from meeting there as well.
GSU researchers and AHA representatives met several times to work out a compromise; however, AHA never agreed to cooperate with GSU researchers on the study.
Thus, GSU researchers conducted some interviews on-site when AHA was not aware, such as at Hollywood Courts, in Wright’s resident office; on other days, GSU researchers hired buses to transport residents to and from GSU.
On Friday, June 20, 2008, Roosevelt House security asked Prof. Oakley to leave the property when she arrived to pick up residents, she reported at the time.
The researchers also reported at the time that residents complained about Roosevelt House security throwing letters from GSU in the garbage on the same day.
During another incident at Roosevelt House, management banged on the door of Henry Grissett, resident President, when he was meeting privately with Oakley in his apartment. Oakley was kicked off the property, she said.
To date, the GSU study is the only research on Atlanta public housing demolitions and mass evictions that involves both data and analysis that are independent of AHA.
Previous research by Thomas Boston at Georgia Tech has been based on AHA’s own problematic data. Previous research by Emory University has been funded by AHA.
Researchers hope to follow up with residents who have moved, or who move in the future, if the evictions and demolitions are not stopped, to learn more about how displacement has affected them.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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