Atlanta Housing Demolition Sparks Outcry

Complexes that accept housing vouchers are concentrated in the some of Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods. Alice Kreit, NPR / Deirdre Oakley and Erin Ruel, Georgia State University hide caption

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itoggle caption Alice Kreit, NPR / Deirdre Oakley and Erin Ruel, Georgia State University
Shirley Hightower i i

Shirley Hightower, president of the Bowen Homes Resident Association, worries there may not be enough affordable housing in the city to relocate the 3,000 families living in the complex. Kathy Lohr, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Kathy Lohr, NPR
Shirley Hightower

Shirley Hightower, president of the Bowen Homes Resident Association, worries there may not be enough affordable housing in the city to relocate the 3,000 families living in the complex.

Kathy Lohr, NPR
Centennial Place Before i i

Techwood Homes was the first of Atlanta's public housing projects to be torn down. Razed over a decade ago, it is now the site of Centennial Place Apartments. Courtesy Atlanta Housing Authority hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Atlanta Housing Authority
Centennial Place Before

Techwood Homes was the first of Atlanta's public housing projects to be torn down. Razed over a decade ago, it is now the site of Centennial Place Apartments.

Courtesy Atlanta Housing Authority
Centennial Place After i i

Centennial Place Apartments were named in connection with Centennial Olympic Park, site of the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. Courtesy Atlanta Housing Authority hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Atlanta Housing Authority
Centennial Place After

Centennial Place Apartments were named in connection with Centennial Olympic Park, site of the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.

Courtesy Atlanta Housing Authority

Some residents of Atlanta's remaining public housing complexes are fighting proposals to tear down their homes. Since 1994, Atlanta has steadily demolished dilapidated public housing to make way for mixed-income projects.

The new developments have been largely successful in cleaning up neighborhoods. This week Atlanta will send three more demolition applications to federal officials. But this time, there's no plan to build a new community and that has created an outcry.

'A Lot of Good Choices'

Shirley Hightower stands outside her apartment in a massive complex of two-story brick buildings in southwest Atlanta. It's called Bowen Homes, and Hightower is president of the residents association. She's lived here for 15 years.

Hightower says it's really not such a bad place, but Bowen Homes has become Atlanta's poster child for poverty and crime, with several murders committed here since last summer.

If the housing authority's plan is approved, Hightower and her neighbors will have to move out within the next several months. But Hightower says there's no guarantee there's enough affordable housing in the city to relocate the 3,000 families living here, and she worries some will end up homeless.

The Atlanta Housing Authority has already demolished 11 complexes since 1994 and plans to get rid of another dozen in the next two years. In most cases, mixed-income housing was built on those sites, and some of the homes were set aside for low-income residents. Residents got vouchers that they could take anywhere to find rental housing.

Renee Glover, CEO of the housing authority, says there are "a lot of good choices" for families to find housing.

Glover says residents can go anywhere they want. But those opposed to the demolition wonder how much choice they really have.

Vouchers Concentrated in Poorest Areas

But Atlanta City Council member Felicia Moore has questions.

"I want to feel comfortable that there are those opportunities there," Moore says. "If we're deconcentrating poverty, are we able to disperse them enough that we do that, or are we keeping people kind of locked in the same community?"

Families have been told they are going to be able to move into affluent, upscale communities with the housing certificates.

But Emory University law professor Lindsay Jones says that doesn't appear to be happening. According to Jones, Georgia State University researchers found that out of about 100 zip codes in the Atlanta area, the vast majority of housing vouchers are located in just 10 of the poorest areas.

"There's no evidence whatsoever that there's any landlord or developer that would be willing to receive these certificates in these communities, yet this is what families are being sold," Jones says. "So what we see is that there is no real choice, that the only landlords who are willing to accept these certificates are landlords that own homes in areas that are concentrated by race and poverty."

Jones has filed a complaint with Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging discrimination and a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Meanwhile, the housing authority argues it has successfully relocated 7,000 residents into better communities with good schools.

Glover says the time has passed to get residents out of the horrible conditions that exist in the remaining public housing projects.

"Do we wait for perfect plan or do we do the plan that is available to us?" Glover says. "We are trying to do this in a responsible way but also with a real sense of urgency."

Back at Bowen Homes, some residents are ready to move out. For others, like Hightower, there's a lack of trust.

"This is a win-lose for us. I don't want my residents, my people, moving somewhere and six months later they're homeless. This is what's getting ready to happen," Hightower says.

The housing authority says after it razes the complexes, it hopes to work with private investors to develop the land and reserve some space for low-income residents. But opponents say before the buildings come down, they'd like to get an agreement to do so in writing.

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