Evicted AHA High-Rise Seniors Die at Alarming Rates

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(APN) ATLANTA — Seniors evicted from the Palmer House and Roosevelt House highrises in late 2009 after a long struggle to preserve their housing, have been dying at alarming rates, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

At least 12 seniors from the two highrises had died out of about 425, according to an ongoing longitudinal, or tracking, study conducted by Assistant Profs. Deirdre Oakley and Erin Ruel in Georgia State University’s Department of Sociology, since the researchers began tracking the seniors in spring 2008.

The findings do not appear to have been published yet in an academic journal, but Prof. Oakley spoke about the deaths of the seniors in her recent remarks before US Congress.

Moreover, an APN analysis of a listing of Palmer House residents alone, shows that at least seven Palmer House residents have died since being evicted last year, and at least an additional 16 seniors died during the two-year period that seniors were fighting, pleading with the Atlanta Housing Authority and local election officials–to no avail–to save their homes from demolition.

“We have found that the relocation process for seniors is especially difficult and stressful and many feel isolated in their new locations. In addition, only 29 percent of the seniors we interviewed prior to relocation expressed their desire to move,” Prof. Oakley testified before the US House Financial Services Committee on April 28, 2010, according to copies of her remarks obtained by APN.

“Relocation has been particularly hard on the seniors with chronic health conditions. Twelve seniors in our study have died since moving compared to only two in our comparison non-relocating public housing senior high rise,” Oakley said.

“There were also needed community supports in the senior high rises that are not as readily accessible to the relocated seniors. As one 90 year-old lady who was relocated far from her social support networks and needed services told us, ‘This is the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in and I can’t wait to get out. I just want to go back to Palmer House,'” Oakley said.

Eleanor Rayton, former President of the Palmer House resident association, named several of the seniors who she knew at Palmer House who have passed away, to APN.

At least seven Palmer House residents died after being evicted–Dan Brown (apartment 602B), Timothy Carter (708B), Fred Gibson (708A), Thomas Jackson (703B), Buford McCracken (1001C), Katie Robinson (1204B), and James Thomas–according to Rayton.

Of the seven, Carter died only a few days ago, so his death is not included in the total of 12 for Palmer and Roosevelt found in the GSU study.

It should be noted the GSU study promised confidentiality to all public housing residents who participated, so they are unable to release the names of the individuals who died.

The total of 12 reported by Prof. Oakley was current as of April 2010, four months ago, and was for both Palmer and Roosevelt House.

In addition, only about 85 percent of about 500 residents total [or about 425] at the two high-rises agreed to particiate in the GSU study. Therefore, there may be individuals at Palmer or Roosevelt House who have died–including some of the ones at Palmer named in this article–not included in the total of 12 reported by the GSU study.

In 2008, Atlanta Progressive News had obtained a list of residents at the Palmer House that was current as of November 2007 and had kept the list in the APN archives. APN reviewed the list of all 247 residents with Rayton to learn where the residents went and whether they were still alive.

In addition to the seven who died post-eviction, there were at least an additional 16 Palmer House residents who died prior to being evicted, during the two year period when the seniors were stressed out about their struggle to save their homes.

The 16 additional seniors who died at Palmer House, during the two year period leading up to the eviction of the others, include Olivia Arnold (apartment 505A), Minnie Bailey (406B), Gloria Bussie (804C), Sallie Butler (406A), Betty Carter (1006C), Dorothy Famble (1402B), Jerry Ford (404A), Sara Gates (1201B), Edgar Hornsby (1501B), Mary Hunter (1406B), Sonia Johnson (502C), Beulah Meadows (607A), Exodus Raven (708C), Johnny Thomas (1005C), James Weems (705A), and Louis Willingham (702B), according to Rayton.

“A lot of them were talking about how stressed they was,” Rayton said.

“A lot of them said they didn’t want to move because they came to the Palmer House to die. It was stressful for them,” Rayton said.

Gloria Bussie, one of the 16 who died at Palmer pre-eviction, lived on the eighth floor of the Palmer House, just a few doors down from where her mother, Margaret Rosser, lived.

When AHA announced its demolition intentions, Bussie became worried that she would be separated from her mother.

“She was all upset and stressed out and stuff, crying because she wanted to be with her mother,” Rayton said.

A 17th additional senior, Lennie Howard, was a temporary Palmer House resident who moved there while John O’Chiles–another senior high rise recently demolished by AHA–was being renovated. Howard moved back to the Atrium, which replaced John O’Chiles, when the new building was ready, and died shortly thereafter, Rayton said.

“Them people were being uprooted from their home,” Rayton said. “They’d been there some years and they were comfortable.”

Rayton said that she had been personally taking care of one of the seniors who died post-eviction.

“Mr. Thomas Jackson had turned 81. I think moving did have something to do with it [him dying]. Once he left there [Palmer House], he did not want to leave the apartment except when I’d come to take care of him,” Rayton said.

“He was so confused being in a new place. He moved last year in September or October. He died January of this year,” Rayton said.

Rayton said another one of the seniors who died post-eviction, Fred Gibson, had to be put in a nursing home after he had trouble adjusting to a new senior highrise at Marietta Road.

“He was there about two weeks. He didn’t know his way around and stuff. He was out walking the hallways. He was urinating on the carpet all the time. They called and said they were gonna put in him a home because she [the manager] was not gonna be cleaning the carpet every week,” Rayton recalled.

“People don’t last long in nursing homes, that’s what they tell me,” Rayton said.

To be sure, there is some mortality rate among seniors living in highrises every year. However, for ten percent of Palmer House residents to die in a two-year period (24 deaths, 247 units) is quite alarming.

As noted by Prof. Oakley, they did compare the mortality rate at Palmer and Roosevelt with that of Cosby Spears, a senior high rise on North Avenue that is not currently slated for demolition. They found 12 deaths at Palmer and Roosevelt versus two at Cosby Spears within the same time period. Even if one adjusted the figures because there are twice as many seniors at two highrises than at one, and one were to multiply the two at Cosby Spears by two, 12 is still 300 percent of four.

Incidentally, the GSU study came out of an exploratory meeting conducted by APN’s News Editor [the present writer, who was attending GSU at the time] and Diane Wright, President of the city-wide Resident Advisory Board, with GSU faculty members.

A section of the survey used by GSU was written by the present writer in collaboration with Wright. In addition, the researchers gained access to the various public housing communities and senior high-rises because they received permission from the RAB Board and the individual resident leaders.

In the case of Palmer House, AHA was so adamant against GSU conducted a tracking study that their management company would not allow researchers in the building. Thus, the seniors had to complete their first round of interviews outside in the hot sun on the sidewalk.

Rayton said the Atlanta Housing Authority promised the evicted seniors would receive services from relocation specialists for 27 months.

“If you needed certain things, they would try to work on getting the help that you needed. December is our last month,” for support services, Rayton said.

Atlanta Progressive News worked closely with the residents of Palmer House in 2007 and 2008, in order to inform the seniors regarding APN’s investigation of the demolitions and the voucher program; to empower the seniors to take meaningful action; and to inform our readers regarding their ongoing efforts.

APN exclusively reported in 2008 that a majority of seniors at Palmer House signed a petition stating they did not want to move.

The Palmer House resident association also passed a resolution opposing the demolitions and stating that they would prefer for all the money AHA had set aside for relocation, to be spent on refurbishing the property.

An APN investigation found that an architectural report on Palmer House produced by Praxis 3 firm for AHA, showed that there were only two minor problems with the building that could have been fixed for about 85,000 dollars total.

AHA did nothing to address the seniors’ concerns. In addition, APN, Rayton, and others sent documentation to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Special Application Center in Chicago, including the Palmer House petitions and resolution–to no avail.

Rayton at one point requested a meeting with HUD’s Chicago office and was denied.

The Council on Aging asked various Members of the City Council of Atlanta to address the concerns of the seniors at Palmer and Roosevelt House.

At one point, Council Members Kwanza Hall (District 1) and Ivory Lee Young (District 3) introduced a resolution to create a Housing Relocation Task Force that would oversee the relocations and hold off on the demolitions until the relocation plans were approved by this Task Force.

However, Hall backed out of his own resolution, and Young declined to push it. Despite the bill’s having passed the Community Development/Human Resources Committee, as previously reported by APN, Young allowed it to be referred back to Committee where no action was ever taken.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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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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