Veronica Belle has woke up with a stiff back for a week straight. For a 50-year-old woman, sleeping on a sofa has few merits. Especially when the sofa is at your sister’s house.
Belle was a resident of Herndon Homes, a downtown Atlanta public housing unit, before she was notified Sept. 23 that she had to leave by Sept. 28. Rushing to file her paperwork to receive her Section 8 voucher in time, the Atlanta Housing Authority, already saddled with paperwork, was not able to accommodate.
For the first time since she was in her 20s, Belle was without a home. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I wasn’t given enough warning, yet I am the one who has no place to stay.”
Belle, one of the thousands of public housing residents in Atlanta who have experienced relocation over the past 10 years, said that she doesn’t expect to be in her own home for at least another three weeks. In the meantime, she has to wait on the housing authority.
This story is a familiar trend among public housing residents in Atlanta since 1996, when the Atlanta Housing Authority demolished Techwood Homes, the nation’s oldest housing projects, to prepare for the Olympic Games.
Centennial Olympic Place replaced Techwood Homes, making way for the influx of mixed-income developments designed toward breaking up poverty and fostering safer neighborhoods, said Chuck Steffen, professor of history at Georgia State University. Atlanta is set to become the first major city to eliminate housing projects after becoming the first to implement them.
“Mixed-income housing is really a euphemism for gentrification,” Steffen said, laughing. “All eyes are on Atlanta on this, but it’s really more of a case of the blind leading the blind.”
Steffen also said that the Olympic Games gave business developers and city hall incentives to change the face of public housing in Atlanta. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, over $2.75 billion were spent on building venues and inner-city development.
Critics of AHA claim that plans to demolish projects were made without ensuring affordable and available to public housing residents.
“There shouldn’t be any plans to tear down housing until a plan is in place,” said Anita Beaty, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. “But over the years the city has been more concerned with profit than the welfare of its citizens.”
Deirdre Oakley, a professor of sociology at Georgia State University, conducted a study of public housing residents and vouchers that they would receive from the Atlanta Housing Authority in 2008. According to the study, the housing authority’s goal of “decentralizing poverty is met with evidence that state otherwise.
Mixed-income housing has limited space for existing residents and will push them to pockets of poverty around the city.
“The elephant in the room here is the racial component,” Oakley said. “Black women are being disproportionately affected by these demolitions.”
Shirley Hightower was president of Bowen Homes’ tenant association when she began to notice something afoot. Plans to tear down three of Westside Atlanta’s crime-riddled projects, Bowen Homes, Hollywood Courts and Bankhead Courts, were already in motion by the time she and her fellow residents became aware in 2007.
“We could see the writing on the wall,” she said “That’s when I realized that Atlanta is no place for the poor.”
Part I of The Atlanta Way‘s excerpt with Kasim Reed
Part II of The Atlanta Way’s excerpt with Kasim Reed