Atlanta Ends Its Public Housing Experiment
LIANE HANSEN, host:
A city that's being transformed today is Atlanta, Georgia. It built the nation's first public housing in the 1930s. And by this time next year, the city's last remaining project will be demolished.
Joining us from Emory University in Atlanta is Michael Rich. He's an associate political science professor at Emory, who studies urban issues. Welcome to the program.
Professor MICHAEL RICH (Political Science, Emory University): Thank you.
HANSEN: We just heard about how both Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses shaped New York City decades ago. Tell us a little bit about the changes in public housing in Atlanta and why public housing is the target of change.
Prof. RICH: Well, I think this work goes back about 15 years or so, just before Atlanta hosted the Centennial Olympics Games. There was a big concern about using that as a historical moment in the city's development, and to see how, in part, the Olympics might prove to be catalytic in helping to reshape the city.
At that time, actually, the first public housing project in the nation that you referred to earlier, Techwood Homes, was part of a comprehensive revitalization effort to tear down and demolish the family public housing and replace with it a mixed income development.
HANSEN: How is it that Atlanta did this?
Prof. RICH: One factor was Renee Glover's tenure as the executive director of the housing authority. She came in at a time when Atlanta was on the federal government's list of troubled public housing agencies. It meant that housing stock was in very poor condition and the management of its resources were not up to federal standards. And she launched a strategic plan to revitalize the housing authority to be a more effective public agency.
But, also, as part of that transformation had the vision that public housing in Atlanta could be something different than it had been in the past. And she brought into play many of the reinventing government principles that were in vogue at the time, things like privatization and cross-sector collaboration.
I think one of the most critical components of that effort was the agreement that the Atlanta Housing Authority was able to negotiate with the federal government about six years ago, that provided Atlanta with a greater flexibility in its use of federal funds. And a greater ability to utilize that federal assistance to make the vision of what public housing could become in Atlanta a reality, that would be, I think, more difficult to execute in other cities that didn't have those tools at their disposal.
HANSEN: Do you have a sense - can you give us a sense of how the city has changed as a result of all of this upending of the public housing projects?
Prof. RICH: Take the - go with the first project, Centennial Place, which is essentially in downtown Atlanta or just north of downtown Atlanta and south of the Georgia Tech campus. That has brought a large number of residents of mixed incomes into a part of the city that didn't have a strong residential component beforehand.
One of the real challenges are the events of the last couple of years with the foreclosure crisis and the economic downturn and the bottoming out of the housing market. A lot of these investments have been in neighborhoods that have been dramatically affected by the foreclosure crisis, that has in turn kind of dampened the leveraging effect that these projects may have regarding additional development that might take place in a neighborhood.
HANSEN: Michael Rich studies urban issues at Emory University, and he spoke to us from their studios. Thank you.
Prof. RICH: You're welcome.
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