Atlanta Threatens Evictions for Unemployed

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Atlanta's public housing authority has threatened to evict residents who are unemployed or not in school. Tenants worry they'll be out on the street with their children if they can't find employment soon. But housing officials say they're just trying to promote personal responsibility.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Atlanta's Public Housing Authority is giving adult tenants an ultimatum: get a job, go to school or lose your apartment. Residents worry they won't have enough time to comply. But housing officials say they're just trying to promote personal responsibility. Joshua Levs reports.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

Pam Shanks offers a tour of her small split-level appointment in the Hollywood Courts development in west Atlanta.

Ms. PAM SHANKS (Resident of Hollywood Courts Housing, Atlanta): This is my daughter's bedroom, and this is my grandson's bedroom.

LEVS: The temperature outside is in the mid-90s. Only one cramped bedroom on the top floor has an air conditioner.

Ms. SHANKS: This the only way we keep cool.

LEVS: Two children are in here watching TV.

Ms. SHANKS: I buy a lot of movies to look at for the kids.

LEVS: Forty-year-old Shanks lives here with her 18-year-old daughter and two grandchildren. One's four, the other less than a year old. Single mothers occupy almost all the 200 apartments here. On the patio, Shanks and her neighbors talk about the Atlanta Housing Authority's threat to evict residents if no able-bodied adult in the household is working, training for a job or going to school.

Ms. SHANKS: Without giving us some jobs. They want us to go to work, they need to open up some doors for us to have a job to go to.

LEVS: She gave up a job at a hospital a couple of months ago. She says she couldn't stand the blood. Since then, she hasn't found any work. Ida Welch(ph), a mother of three, says she receives no child support and gets by on food stamps. Welch has trouble with her ankle, but it's not severe enough to qualify her for disability. She says she tries every day to find a job.

Ms. IDA WELCH (Resident of Hollywood Courts Housing, Atlanta): If I were to limp into that office and ask them to give me an application that I can fill out, do you really think I'm really going to be the first person they'd consider for hiring?

LEVS: Diane Wright heads the tenants' association. She predicts what will happen if some residents of Hollywood Courts are evicted.

Ms. DIANE WRIGHT (The Tenants Association): People are going to turn to crime. You're going to have robberies. You're going to have more murderers. You don't want this, because what are people going to do if they don't have a job?

LEVS: They're going to find one, says Atlanta Housing Authority President Renee Glover. She says the whole point of the rule is to get people up and working.

Ms. RENEE GLOVER (President, Atlanta Housing Authority): What this is about is assisting families who are temporarily on the assistance to rebuild their lives, discover and tap into their human potential. And we are very excited about what we believe is going to be a whole lot of success.

LEVS: Glover says the rule covers nearly 12,000 households. More than half are not in compliance. That means they include able-bodied adults who aren't working, doing work force training or attending school. The Housing Authority has offered them free child care and information about where to find jobs. Glover contends that in this growing city, there's plenty of work.

Ms. GLOVER: There are literally thousands of jobs at the airport and all around these construction sites. What the Workforce Development Agency tells us is that there are far more jobs than there are people to take them.

LEVS: She believes it's up to her agency to motivate people to find employment. That's why she calls her program Catalyst. Similar efforts around the country are part of the federal government's Moving to Work program. Glover acknowledges evictions could force families with kids onto the streets. In most cases, welfare agencies would get involved. But the Atlanta Housing Authority president believes the government must promote responsibility so people don't pass on poverty to their children.

Ms. GLOVER: We cannot, as a society, afford to write off thousands and thousands of people. And I think by lowering standards or not having standards at the right level so that people are constantly stretching themselves and achieving and continuing to grow, we have gotten in the way of people really tapping into their own potential.

(Soundbite of people outside)

LEVS: Residents of Hollywood Courts agree with some of this. Pam Shanks says the Catalyst program, including its threat of eviction, could help some people.

Ms. SHANKS: I think someone this program might be good for is someone who's not really taking it serious. They think it's really a joke, 'cause I seen this here. A lot of them still walking around here that ain't trying to go looking for no job. In this way here, it should make you wake up and say, `Look, I got to do this 'cause I'm going to be on the street.'

LEVS: The Atlanta Housing Authority had threatened to begin evictions this summer, but the City Council requested a six-month delay while it looks into the program, and the Authority agreed. President Renee Glover says this offers public housing residents an opportunity.

Ms. GLOVER: Use this time wisely and well.

LEVS: If they don't, they could face eviction at the end of December.

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

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