Residents Take Over Public Housing Meeting at Atlanta City Hall (UPDATE 1)

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(APN) ATLANTA — The tables are starting to turn, as 200 public housing residents actually took over the Atlanta Housing Authority Fiscal Year 2008 Moving to Work Annual Plan Public Hearing held at Atlanta City Hall to discuss the planned demolitions of all Atlanta public housing.

AHA officials were unable to complete their annual presentation to the public, when advocate Joe Beasley, with the Task Force for the Homeless, stood up and said there were individuals who wanted to speak on the racial impact of the evictions but had to leave.

Mr. Barney Simms, who was conducting the meeting at that point in the program, continued what he had been saying at first.

Beasley repeated his comment. Then, everybody got up and starting clapping and shouting a variety of comments including chants of “Let the people speak!”

“I want to be organized. We don’t want to call Security,” Simms said.

Eventually, Mr. Simms, taken aback, said the people could speak but that there would be ground rules including a two minute time limit.

THE PEOPLE SPEAK OUT

“There’s no jobs. All these pretty words about [housing] choice… Is this Black removal?” Joe Beasley, 70, said.

The present reporter next delivered comments on behalf of the APN Board of Directors.

“It’s so appalling. This is supposed to be a public hearing. How do you sleep at night? The residents of Herndon Homes, we have elected we want to stay,” Laura Lawson, President of Herndon Homes Resident Advisory Board (RAB) said.

“Where are the children going to live? Are they going to live under a bridge?” Shirley Hightower, President of Bowen Homes RAB said.

“I don’t have no home to go to. Where am I gonna go to? It is so hard to go to school, earning a 3.0. Working at McDonald’s doesn’t cut it when the gas bill’s $300 a month,” Daphne Shaw, said, crying.

“We know between 48,000 and 68,000 Atlantans experience homelessness during a year’s period. We are 200,000 affordable housing units short,” Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force, said. “We cannot afford to lose a single physical unit.”

“The whole game with the job requirement… we’re talking about the first wave of displacement. Just because you want to privatize the property… Hurricane Renee [Glover, head of AHA]” Beaty said.

“We see this as a human rights issue. To evict people by June 30th is a crime against humanity. We’re calling for no evictions,” Terence Courtney, Director of Jobs with Justice, said. “If you have $10 million to tear [public housing] down with, you have $10 million to improve the communities.”

Willie Mae Jones–who was featured in a previous article by APN because she can’t meet the work requirements because she needs to take care of her daughter who is autistic–spoke about her situation.

“Let me assure you, you or your daughter won’t be put out,” Simms said.

“What I hear out of your mouth is a lot of denial, you have pushed poor people into a corner,” Troy Harris, Task Force resident, volunteer, and advocate, said. “The people will eventually come out of that corner. What you see today is the tip of the iceberg.”

“It’s a beautiful day when you build $250 million buildings, spend [millions] on an Aquarium, put down [millions] on the King Papers overnight,” former City Council Member, Derrick Boazman, said.

“I’m a product of public housing. Something’s wrong when a 60 year old grandma has to go to school. At 61, she’s got a PhD in common sense. If you think for one minute folks like us are gonna sit down, we’re gonna tear this City up. Before I let one eviction happen, we’ll take over the (AHA) Office. I’ve got my tent, my boots, my food to eat, and I’m ready to go.”

AHA’S PRESENTATION

Previously, the AHA had completed most of its lengthy presentation, which was supposed to explain what was happening, why, what options residents had, and what options were available for the public land.

Unfortunately, the presentation was filled with jargon and Orwellian phrases like “Move to Work,” “Hope VI,” and “Quality of Life” to describe the planned evictions and demolitions.

“We are about to embark on the Catalyst Plan, also called the Move to Work plan,” Renee Glover, director of AHA, said, of the upcoming evictions, adding the goal of the demolitions is “healthy mixed-income communities.”

“Concentrated poverty has not worked well in America,” Glover said. “[We are] moving away from that model towards mixed-income communities.”

One of AHA’s goals, Glover said, was “Creating a market-rate community with a seamless affordable component.”

Glover even said that the affordability of the new units, which would replace current public housing communitiesm, “is guaranteed for a fifty year period.”

It is unclear, however, how affordability can be guaranteed in a “market-rate community.”

Moreover, Glover seems to have an unrealistic notion of what affordable means for working people.

Private houses to replace public housing would be affordable to families earning 80% to 110% of Area Median Income, the AHA said; AMI is about $50,000/year in Atlanta.

Rental units would be affordable to families earning “between 0 and 80%” of AMI, a vague assertion which means all of them could conceivably be at 79% of AMI, or about $40,000/year.

Joy Fitzgerald, another official for AHA, laid out the City’s idea of what this “revitalization” program means.

Public housing would be replaced with mixed-income apartments and houses; high-performance neighborhood schools; upscale retail and commercial space; and green space.

Fitzgerald presented a list of dozens of communities slated for destruction.

Cindi Herrera, Program Manager for Housing Choice, said their program would allow public housing residents the “opportunity to move into housing of their choice… Will relocate 5,500 people. Responsible relocation… will make sure to provide families with the tools they need to make a good choice.”

Herrera said the residents would be provided with vouchers–which may have no real value as explained previously by Atlanta Progressive News.

Georgia State University would be providing education for the controversial relocation program, Herrera said.

PARENTING LESSONS

Renee Glover told the audience they were in for a special treat: a speech by Commissioner BJ Walker of the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

Walker told a story of a 9 year old boy shot in a parking lot of an unspecified public housing complex. Walker said the mother had been interviewed on television and had said she was a good mother because she was hand-washing her childrens’ jeans.

“Had anyone ever asked her what it meant to be a good parent? What matters to children most is adults,” Walker said.

“What does this have to do with anything?” Dianne Mathiowetz, an activist with the Atlanta International Action Center, said, while busting out laughing at the AHA during their presentation.

The irony was lost on Walker: Single parents are being forced to work under the “Catalyst” program; how can they know where their children are when AHA is threatening them with eviction unless they work, particularly when no childcare is provided?

Moreover, how will public housing residents know where their children are when they’re living out on the street?

“Welfare might be good enough if you’re trifling,” Walker included in her words of wisdom.

“I am offended by Commissioner Walker’s speech,” activist Amy Hastey said in her public comments later. “Do you think this community needs a lecture on how to raise children, or do they need a living wage?”

MASS PROTESTS AND CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE PROMISED

Boazman told the AHA when the Sheriff shows up to evict the first family, he will be there.

Activists let the AHA know that mass protest actions and civil disobedience are planned.

The City apparently thought they were just going to get away with the whole thing, until the residents began to form a coalition with local advocacy groups in recent weeks.

“They [the AHA] are very upset and they don’t know what they’re going to do,” one resident said she had been told afterward by the AHA.

CORRECTION: The following quote had originally been attributed to Anita Beaty “What about the people who can’t hold down a job? What about the people who are illiterate? What about their children?” However, she has contacted APN and said she did not say those things. It is possible someone else who spoke after her who was unidentified in our notes. The quotes have been removed.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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