By Anita Beaty and Lynne Griever
HUD APPROVES DEMOLITION OF HOUSING UNITS: HUD has just approved the destruction of 3,000 units of public housing, nearly all remaining public housing in Atlanta, Georgia. The battle has raged for nearly two years to save the homes of 9,600 families and individuals who are being displaced by the Atlanta Housing Authority in order to sell the land to developers. Five complexes were destroyed last year. Next in line for evacuation is the 600-unit Bowen Homes.
A NATIONAL EMERGENCY: Sadly, we've seen this process in major cities all over the country. HUD has spent billions to demolish hundreds of thousands of housing units for extremely low income families in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Boston, Detroit, Denver, San Francisco, Washington... and the list continues to grow. City after city fights the battle, on a local level with no oversight and little if any enforcement of existing regulations from HUD.
In the United States 95 million people have housing problems, according to Habitat for Humanity. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Closing Door reports that nowhere in the country will a minimum wage earner be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rent. Incredibly, 100 million people are homeless and 1.6 billion live in substandard housing across the globe.
When we lost the federal requirement for one-for-one replacement of any public housing unit that was to be demolished, the responsibility for ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable of our neighbors are housed fell to the local boards, commissions and governments.
GENTRIFICATION BECOMES PUBLIC POLICY: Coincidentally, Bowen Homes sits on valuable acres near the proposed Beltline, surrounded by plans for single family residential developments, upscale condominiums, shopping centers and other amenities that will displace more than 620 families who live in a community that the Atlanta Housing Authority is destroying, with no guarantee for replacement housing.
RESIDENTS FRIGHTENED AND INTIMIDATED: In a recent interview, Shirley Hightower, President of the Bowen Homes Resident Association, said “The senior residents are very upset. They don't want to be separated. Most of their family and friends have passed, and they are family to each other. They have their own routine and their own life. They've been here for years. Their grandchildren are here.”
AHA announced that of all the families still living in Bowen Homes, a few more than 200 have qualified for “Housing Choice Vouchers,” but every day that goes by more people are disqualified and get word that they will not get a voucher. Widespread raids and harassment of tenant leaders take place every day. Police harassment takes the place of police protection as residents barricade themselves in their units, afraid to go out.
Can we win this battle? According to Attorney Lindsay Jones, who has worked on this case for over eight months, “We have strong research that supports the claim that public housing demolition, without one for one replacement, violates the Fair Housing Act and Equal Protection guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. We have the opportunity to argue constitutional claims that could make significant changes.”
A Georgia Tech study reports a deficit of approximately 218,000 affordable housing units in Atlanta. A study from Dr. Deirdre Oakley of Georgia State University maps voucher housing in Metro Atlanta and shows that a majority is concentrated in poor black neighborhoods thus reinforcing existing concentrated poverty and residential segregation.
A Legal Defense Fund Established: “This is a war... and we can't fight without resources,” Jones explains. “The situation here in Atlanta presents an opportunity for a test case to challenge the demolition and elimination of scarce affordable and low income housing.” In order to support the litigation and eviction protection for residents, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has established a Fair Housing Legal Defense Fund. See www.homelesstaskforce.org for details.
Please help us win this one!