EXCLUSIVE: Public Housing Evictions Starting Already, Residents Plead for Help
(APN) BANKHEAD — Atlanta public housing residents who do not have a job or are not in school by the end of June 2007 will be evicted from their residences, months before the City’s intended public housing demolitions are to occur, Atlanta Progressive News has learned. Lease amendments obtained by APN, heartbreaking resident testimony, as well as the Atlanta Housing Authority website, all confirm the AHA’s mass eviction policies.
Meanwhile, our review of documents and testimony suggests Atlanta Housing Authority did not follow their own federal guidelines and may have misled residents about the demolition process which they intend to begin in early 2008.
Resident Advisory Board leaders from Bowen Homes in the Bankhead area, as well as Hollywood Court Apartments spoke with APN at length on several occasions over the last week.
Threatening residents with eviction will not make full-time jobs automatically available to them, and many residents are single mothers and/or have health conditions making it difficult to work. Also, while the Atlanta Housing Authority has stepped up the conditions for housing, it has drastically cut funding for social services including GED classes, residents say.
Shirley Hightower, President of the resident’s association at Bowen Homes, emailed APN and several Atlanta activists after she began hearing from residents at Bowen Homes that eviction is imminent. The Task Force for the Homeless’s Anita Beaty and Joe Beasley joined current and former public housing residents at an emergency meeting Monday, April 16.
A City public housing “manager” insisted on spying on the meeting, originally at the Bowen community center, so it was moved to a private location.
“They [the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA)] are evicting [residents] for whatever reason they can think of,” Hightower said.
Hightower is asking for activists “who are heard when they speak” to help.
Certain residents at Bowen Homes have disabilities or children with disabilities but manage to pay their rent and other bills on time each month. APN spoke with two such residents.
ONE WOMAN’S DILEMMA
Paula Pickney, 34, at Bowen Homes, suffers from sleep apnea and arthritis. She has three children aged 17, 13, and 8. She pays her rent and other bills on time each month thanks to child support money she receives. Pickney has also applied for disability.
“They want me to work but I can’t,” she told APN. “I have no energy because I can’t sleep at night.”
Pickney does have friends and family in the area but they have no room where they live for her or her children should she lose her housing. She and her children face eviction if she does not find a job very soon.
Pickney says the Housing Authority has already told her she has a deadline of June 1 to have a job or be out. The fact some residents have different deadlines than others appears to be arbitrary.
A WOMAN WORRIES ABOUT HER AND HER DAUGHTER
Willie Mae Jones, 51, cares for her autistic daughter, Angel, 17. Jones is her daughter’s only caregiver.
Jones’s older daughter came to Atlanta after Hurricane Katrina for a while, she said, which allowed her to work, while her older daughter took care of Angel. They first lived at Evergreen Village while she worked at Sunrise Assisted Living.
Now that she is at Bowen Homes by herself with Angel, Jones does not have the support system for her or her daughter that she had before.
But AHA wants to evict Jones and her daughter if she does not find a job before the end of June. “I don’t have a problem going to find a job. I come from working [people].”
Jones worries about the care of Angel when she is away. “I’m just not going to leave my child with [anybody].” Angel is prone to seizures and not everyone has the knowledge to deal with that situation.
Even though she does not have a job, Jones has a way to pay rent each month. “[I’ve] never been late [on rent]. Never paid one late fee.”
“God is good,” Jones said. “He has kept a roof over our head.”
ATLANTA HOUSING AUTHORITY CREATING HOMELESSNESS
As Atlanta Progressive News reported last week, the AHA is currently trying to push forward plans to demolish all of the current public housing beginning in early 2008 to allegedly replace it with so-called “mixed-income” housing.
The program has been called “Catalyst” and, more recently, “Quality of Life,” residents say.
Hollywood Court resident and advocacy President, Diane Wright, says she learned the AHA made a presentation to a Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) that two communities were supposed to have been converted into a Kroger’s Grocery store with a huge parking lot, a YMCA, and a golf course.
Plans for the Kroger’s, YMCA, and golf course apparently all fell through, Wright said she learned from an Atlanta-based HUD official a few days ago.
But the entire eviction or “relocation” process is beginning now and it was the consensus of advocates at the April 16 meeting that the process is beginning now in order to reduce the appearance of a mass exodus later.
“Where are they going to go? Where are these babies going to go?” asked Hightower during the meeting. “For every momma put out, that’s two or three babies.”
“People should have a right to a house, whether they have a job or not, as long as they are paying rent,” Hightower continued. “Children should not be sent away with strangers or kept by strangers.”
“We have to do something,” Terence Courtney of Jobs with Justice told APN Tuesday. “Our hope is we can raise enough drama to show Atlanta as a whole this is not what is needed. We hope that leads to the stoppage of early evictions. If it doesn’t help, that speaks to the level of inhumanity of the [AHA].”
MISINFORMATION AND LACK OF CONSULTATION
Residents say they were not allowed to have any input into the decision to demolish their homes.
The City issued a Request for Proposals for private development in December 2006, Wright said, adding she has issued a public records request for a copy of it.
Two months later, in February 2007, AHA came to her community to make a presentation informing them of the long-term demolition plans. “The floor was then open for questions and/or concerns. Some of the questions or concerns were: Doesn’t the AHA need approval from the JWC [RAB] to move forward? AHA doesn’t need approval from JWC and they only need approval from HUD,” residents and resident leaders were told at a February 14, 2007, meeting, according to the official minutes obtained by APN.
Then, in April 2007, another AHA presentation was made at the resident council meeting. This time, residents were shocked to learn the “relocation” process was taking place under a different policy than the one they were originally told, called “Section 18,” April’s minutes show.
“My concern and complaint is that the RAB board was not properly notified about the ‘Quality of Life’ initiative until Feb. 14, 2007,” Wright wrote to Boyce Norris, Director of Georgia State Office of Public Housing, in an April 13, 2007, letter, obtained by APN.
“On this date we were told residents were to be moved under the Uniform Relocation Act. Then on April 11, 2007, during yet another RAB meeting, we were told residents were to be moved under… Section 18 which states that resident consultation is required both at the development level at the Authority-wide level and with the RAB for all applications,” Wright wrote.
Wright has not heard back from Norris as of this date.
Hightower and Wright are continually disgusted with the lack of consultation and the perpetuation of what they see as a misinformation campaign.
“We’re forcing ourselves into the process now,” Hightower told APN.
“We want the whole thing to stop because they never told us anything,” she said at the meeting. “They never came to the resident advisory boards. That’s the most important thing.”
“[They are] throwing out different stories and terms at different times during different meetings,” Hightower said.
“[The AHA] is under orders from the business community to turn [these properties] over to people who have money,” Joe Beasley said at the meeting. “I think it’s time for civil disobedience.”
GETTING THE PEOPLE ORGANIZED
Those in attendance April 16 agree the best remedy is to get the residents in all public housing communities organized for protests. Perhaps the most outspoken proponent at the meeting was Donny Grogan, a previous President of the Bowen RAB.
“We must hold Housing accountable. We must call them out,” he continued. “Use your power. That is the key to bringing them to their knees.”
Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said there are agency organizations that want to go on record supporting residents of these communities, and a coalition of advocates are seeking a legal injunction and other procedural remedies, in addition to mass protest strategies.
Wright said she is circulating petitions around her community for residents who oppose the evictions to sign.
“Residents are so scared [to get organized],” Hightower said. “They are just so full of fear. Some don’t have the strength to fight.”
“I don’t have much confidence” in reaching out to politicians for help, Courtney told APN. “I have confidence in residents and people dealing with the situation themselves.”
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
“The Black man in Atlanta, like most urban and even rural areas, is unemployed,” Beasley explained to APN.
“They say if you don’t get a job, then go get training,” he continued. “The training they are giving is not meaningful. After you finish the training, there is not a job at a livable wage. It’s just smoke and mirrors.”
“When you look at the condition of our community, the question becomes: why are the people in the condition they are in?” Grogan asked. “When you look at the condition of the people, mentally and physically, it shows that that money has never been spent in the community.”
Hightower estimates around 20 percent of those at Bowen Homes have the skills and means to move on. “Some people are ready to go and those people should move on somewhere else and let those who don’t have [a place] come in and take that spot,” she said.
She estimates that 75 percent have the desire to move on to other places but that they are not equipped with the right education, skills, or circumstances to do that.
“Why evict those who are not ready?” Hightower asked. “[There are] 21 year old girls with their own apartments with a job at Checkers with two or three kids. Where are you going?”
Hightower said programs used to exist in order to “strengthen the people” but those programs were never funded properly and have since been eliminated.
“I think if they put money back in [the community], it would improve,” she said. “You could have put some demand [on residents] back then when you had the programs.”
“If you have the resources to push all these people out, why aren’t you improving these conditions now?” Courtney asked. The proposed demolition cost itself is $10 million.
“Renee Glover [executive director of the AHA] wants to deconcentrate the place,” Hightower said. “Who made it a concentration camp in the first place?”
COURSE OF ACTION
After the Bowen Homes meeting, Hightower, Wright, Beaty, and Beasley went to Herndon Homes for a similar meeting, where they were also joined by State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas. Wright told APN Thomas has been a loyal supporter of the residents.
The Herndon meeting was very productive and it was agreed leaders of these communities should bind together to protest and seek to control their own destiny, Beaty told APN.
There are two important meetings coming up on Thursday April 19 where public participation is highly encouraged. First, The Task Force for the Homeless is holding a meeting at noon at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on E. Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Glover has been invited to this meeting. While Glover has not yet answered the call, Beaty is expecting a large turnout of concerned citizens.
The second meeting will happen at the Fulton County Government Building downtown at 6 p.m. Thursday April 19. This will be a town hall meeting where those in attendance can sign up at the door to make public statements. AHA will also be making a presentation on their plans.
APN will be at both these meetings and will report later this week on what happens.
About the author:
Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer with Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at email@example.com. Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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