AHA Lies in Response on Seniors, Disparages APN

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Housing Authority told multiple lies in its response last week to an article that appeared on Atlanta Progressive News, dated August 12, 2010, entitled, “Evicted AHA High-Rise Seniors Die at Alarming Rates.”

In addition, the AHA uses taxpayer dollars to disparage APN.

The APN article reported that 24 of the seniors at Palmer House had died in a 2.5 year period leading up to, including, and following their forced relocation, according to a phone interview with Eleanor Rayton. APN also listed the names of the seniors who had died, and AHA never disputed that information.

APN had also reported that Associate Prof. Dierdre Oakley of Georgia State University’s Department of Sociology had testified before US Congress that they had found a total of 12 seniors had died from both Palmer and Roosevelt, as of April 2010. More recently, as cited by AHA, Oakley reported that figure was 14 for both facilities.

Their study was not complete, though, because it did not track all of the seniors; in that sense, APN’s review was more complete, at least for Palmer House. Their study also covers a shorter period than APN’s review. Yet, they still found that the death rate was 300 percent higher in Palmer and Roosevelt than in Cosby Spears, another senior high-rise that was not facing demolition.

AHA’s response is attributed to Hope Boldon, CEO of the Integral Youth and Family Project, which has been managing the evictions and forced relocations of seniors and families.

However, it is clear that AHA’s response was heavily edited and co-written by AHA upper management, especially Rick White of the Alisias PR firm, because it utilizes many of the heavily propaganda-laden phrases and terms employed by upper management over the years, and because its defamation of APN mimicks phrases previously employed by Creative Loafing, which a public relations firm like Alisias would be more likely to be familiar with. Alisias also distributed the statement by email and on AHA’s blog, which it manages.

AHA CLAIMS SENIORS NOT EVICTED

“Professor Deirdre Oakley… is the first to insist that seniors were never ‘evicted,’ as the ‘news’ service claimed,” Boldon wrote.

“When asked by AHA about the ‘news’ service and Creative Loafing reports, Professor Oakley stated: ‘None of the seniors from Palmer or Roosevelt Houses in our study who have passed away were evicted,'” Boldon wrote, citing Oakley.

Basically, AHA and Oakley appear to be playing word games with the word evicted. Their use of the word evicted, however, is misleading regarding the extent of choice that seniors had over whether they wanted to–or had to–move.

In reality, all of the seniors at Palmer and Roosevelt House were evicted when they were notified by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that they had granted approval for AHA to demolish their buildings, and they were given a limited time to find new housing; many received a voucher, but some did not.

All of the seniors were therefore evicted. The only difference is that some of the seniors were evicted with a voucher, and others were evicted and not given a voucher.

AHA appears to be implying that only those who were evicted without a voucher were technically evicted.

“I believe they were evicted. Because even though they were given a voucher, they never said that they wanted to move,” Diane Wright, former President of the Resident Advisory Board and Hollywood Courts, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“They didn’t have a choice,” Wright said. “They had to leave.”

AHA CLAIMS 97 PERCENT OF SENIORS WANTED TO MOVE- BASED ON MISLEADING SURVEY

Previously, Prof. Oakley had stated in US Congressional testimony that only 29 percent of the seniors wanted to move.

The GSU survey specifically asked whether the seniors would prefer to spend AHA’s funds on repairing and improving their high rise, or whether they would prefer the funds be spent on relocation. [The question was co-written by Wright and the present writer, who contributed to the questions in the initial survey.]

In that sense, the GSU survey offered the residents a choice that AHA never did.

“However,” Boldon wrote in her recent response to APN, “AHA did survey all of the residents – families, seniors and disabled – in projects slated for demolition and found that about 97 percent wanted out of public housing.”

“What these survey respondents were saying is that obsolete housing developments are so awful, so toxic that the buildings should be razed and the public policies that prop them up should be abandoned,” Boldon wrote.

However, this 97 percent figure, which has been widely quoted by AHA in press materials and advertisements, is completely misleading. APN has already challenged this statistic numerous times, including in a letter questioning AHA’s demolition applications, and so they should know better.

What happened was, they sat the residents down at a meeting called at each high rise or family development and informed them that they would be seeking to demolish their building. They then circulated a 4 inch by 6 inch index card stating, “Let your voice be heard! Would you like the opportunity to receive a Housing Choice Voucher? Yes. No.”

AHA never asked the residents if they wanted to move, or if they wanted to be evicted, or if they would prefer to refurbish their own community; they told them their home would be destroyed and asked if they would like a voucher.

“One of the girls [residents in Hollywood Courts] asked Barney Simms {of AHA] what would happen if she didn’t want to move, and he said that she would eventually be evicted. They had no choice,” Wright said.

“I think they said that [they wanted a voucher] because of the fact that they knew they had no choice,” Wright said.

Wright also said she believes the residents also thought that if they checked no, that they would not receive a voucher.

“They weren’t told anything about them being toxic,” Wright said.

“A lot of them didn’t want to move and a lot of them wish they could go back if they rebuild,” Eleanor Rayton, former President of Palmer House, told APN.

“They weren’t giving them a choice,” Rayton said, adding that the seniors believed, “If they [seniors] didn’t accept the voucher, they [AHA] would’ve put them anywhere.”

“The residents at the Palmer didn’t want to go. They be calling me asking if they can go back,” Rayton said.

AHA CLAIMS PALMER AND ROOSEVELT HAD TO BE RENOVATED

“Add to this the fact that if Palmer and Roosevelt had remained open, they would have required massive renovations – which would have mandated lengthy temporary relocations for the senior citizen and disabled residents. If relocation causes stress, then it was unavoidable in the cases of these highrise housing projects,” Boldon wrote.

Again, AHA’s statement is untrue and deceptive.

As previously reported by APN, AHA hired Praxis 3 architecture firm to analyze Palmer House and the other communities and to prepare a report for inclusion in the demolition applications.

The Praxis 3 report, again, showed it would only have cost about 85,000 dollars to address the two repair issues cited by the firm for Palmer House.

“Palmer and Roosevelt had had some renovations done to them,” prior to the evictions, Wright added.

“It was only in the lobby and the community room,” Rayton said about the renovations which took place in early 2004. “A couple years after that, they put in ceiling fans.”

Rayton and others seniors were confused at the time that AHA was seeking demolitions for Palmer House when the agency had just spent money on renovations.

Rayton requested copies of the Palmer House demolition application from AHA. “When they sent us the information [including the architectural reports] it wasn’t as bad as they claimed it was,” Rayton said.

“I can say about Hollywood [Courts], we really had a good site. It was a sound place to live,” Wright said.

“Remember we sent in the resolution,” Wright said.

Both the resident associations of Palmer House and Hollywood Courts sent resolutions into HUD asking that their communities not be demolished, and that the funds AHA had set aside for relocation, be spent of refurbishing their buildings.

AHA PROVIDES OWN STATISTICS ON SENIOR DEATHS, NOT CONSISTENT WITH APN FINDINGS

Previously, APN reported that at least 24 had seniors had died at Palmer House in a two and a half year period leading up to, including, and following the evictions of Palmer House residents.

APN listed the names of the residents and their apartment numbers, as provided by Rayton. Despite AHA’s rhetoric, they never challenged APN’s numbers or the list of names, nor did they contact Rayton.

AHA provided its own statistics: “During the last six fiscal years (July 2004 through June 2010), at all 17 of the AHA senior facilities, there have been 355 deaths – equating to an annual death rate of about 3.5 per property. At Palmer House, there have been 24 deaths, or four per year. At Roosevelt House, there were 20 deaths, or 3.3 per year on average.”

First of all, it should be noted that AHA has a track record of using statistics to mislead people [see above- false claim that 97% of seniors want to move].

AHA is claiming that only 24 seniors died at Palmer House in a six year period.

APN had previously reported that 24 seniors had died in a 2 and a half year period. So, for AHA’s claim to be true, no seniors at Palmer House could have died between mid-2004 and mid-2007.

However, Rayton named an additional five seniors who died between 2004 and 2010 whom she did not include in the previous list of 24: Mattie Cash (apartment 305C), Sonia Johnson (502C), Raymond Oliver (905A), Nimrod Dade (1003C), and George Gorman (1304A).

Rayton added that the list of 24 who died out of the remaining residents at Palmer House when the residents were being evicted, likely does not include all the residents who died because she has lost track of some 10 to 20 percent of them.

“I believe there’s more that’s gone that I don’t know of,” Rayton said.

When APN read AHA’s statistics to Rayton, she replied: “I don’t believe that. They’re wrong.”

NOTES ON CAUSATION

AHA also argued that it is impossible to prove that the evictions caused the deaths of the 24 seniors at Palmer House. It is likely that some seniors would have died during the same time period regardless of what happened to the Palmer House. However, it is possible that some seniors died who otherwise would have not, and that it exacerbated poor health conditions leading to early deaths for others.

Still, it is true that causality can never be proven in terms of a scientific standard. One can never truly prove that one causes the other, but with a large enough sample of evidence, one can make a statistical assumption. The GSU study does not allow for statistical assumptions in the case of the seniors.

However, APN never stated that one caused the other, so AHA is responding to a claim that was never made.

APN did state that the rate of senior deaths–at least 10 percent–in such a short time frame, was alarming. And indeed, apparently it was alarming because readers were alarmed and AHA responded.

Yet the citizens and policymakers of Atlanta do not have to wait to solid statistical proof–and our seniors are not guinea pigs in a labratory experiment–in order to make the decision that the Atlanta Housing Authority should never take such a risk with Atlanta’s seniors again.

AHA DISPARAGES APN

This is now at least the second time AHA has used taxpayer funds to disparage the Atlanta Progressive News.

“One of the few remaining critics [of AHA] is a website – basically a one-man show masquerading as ‘news service.’ With few readers and a policy that boasts of its lack of objectivity, little attention is paid to the website,” Boldon wrote.

Again, AHA misleads. There are many people, including community volunteers, who write or do other important work for the Atlanta Progressive News, and we are delighted to receive thousands of web hits per day on top of our 5,500 email subscribers.

As for objectivity, it is perfectly all right to strive to include as many sides as possible. We emphasize the side of those who typically do not get heard from: low-income people, oppressed people.

However, when one side is consistently lying and defrauding the public, as is the case of AHA, it is neither journalistically responsible nor ethical to treat the two sides as if they were on equal footing.

(END/2010)

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