Atlanta Delays Evicting Jobless Housing Residents

Public housing officials in Atlanta announce that they will wait six months before implementing a program to evict families in which no able-bodied adult is working, in school or in a job-training program. Officials say they want to encourage residents to become more self-sufficient.

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Atlanta's Housing Authority last night put off a plan to start evicting public housing residents who are unemployed. The Housing Authority agreed to a request by the city council after residents and activists complained. Joshua Levs reports.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

At the Hollywood Courts Apartments on Atlanta's West Side over the weekend, five children played hide-and-go-seek.

Unidentified Girl: ...38, 39, 40, 41. Ready or not, here I come!

LEVS: Nearby, five women sat huddled around a fan outside one of the apartments at this public housing project. They feared they could be evicted any day. Pam Shanks(ph) lives with her 18-year-old daughter, and her daughter's two children: one's four; the other, nine months.

Ms. PAM SHANKS (Tenant, Hollywood Courts Apartments): And there's just going to be a whole lot of little kids out here that's homeless and hungry and it's going to start the robbing and the killing, and it's going to be a mess. It's going to be a mess.

LEVS: In October, the Atlanta Housing Authority set June 30th as the date for an able-bodied adult in each family to work at least 30 hours a week, do work force training or be in school. If they didn't, the household could face eviction. Shanks gave up her job at a hospital last month because she couldn't stand all the blood.

Ms. SHANKS: And I've been out every day for two weeks looking for a job, but ain't nobody called back.

LEVS: Of the nearly 200 homes here, only two have fathers. The rest are single mothers according to the tenants association. Twenty-two-year-old Dorianne Ruffin(ph) has three children and no child support, and she's pregnant. She called the Housing Authority's plan unfair.

Ms. DORIANNE RUFFIN (Tenant, Hollywood Courts Apartments): It's time for everybody to wake up and get jobs and take care of their responsibilities. But I think they're going about it the wrong way.

LEVS: What would the right way be?

Ms. RUFFIN: Bring in new resources to the neighborhood.

LEVS: The Housing Authority says it already has. It offers job training, education and free child care. These resources and the rules requiring people to work are a part of a program called Catalyst. Atlanta Housing Authority president, Renee Glover, designed Catalyst as part of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Work program.

Ms. RENEE GLOVER (Atlanta Housing Authority): If you're talking about a program that is going to encourage economic independence and self-sufficiency, these are the types of policies we believe that will encourage people to tap into their human potential.

LEVS: Still, the complaints had an effect. Yesterday, the Atlanta City Council adopted a resolution asking for more information on the housing situation and asking the Housing Authority to wait six more months before starting evictions. Last night, Glover agreed.

Ms. GLOVER: I think once they better understand what the policies are, and also the impact of the policies, I am perfectly comfortable that they will not only support it, they will embrace it.

LEVS: Glover says nearly 12,000 households are affected by the rules, and fewer than half are in compliance. She acknowledges convictions could mean putting kids on the streets. In that case, the Department of Family and Children's Services would get involved. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, which fights for affordable housing, says a city should never use evictions as a tool. Deputy director Linda Couch.

Ms. LINDA COUCH (Deputy Director, National Low Income Housing Coalition): What we've said is that's draconian. The Housing Authority's first and foremost mission should be to house people, not to get them out of their units as quickly as possible.

LEVS: But Glover views the threat of evictions as a necessity.

Ms. GLOVER: If we don't start somewhere and we don't have both carrots and sticks in order to push forward this agenda, then what is the answer?

LEVS: She said she believes the events of the last few days will kick people into gear and make them realize that the threat of eviction is very real. The question now is whether the Housing Authority will begin evictions in the middle of winter.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs in Atlanta.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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