Atlanta Public Housing Plans Under Fire From City Council, Residents

Atlanta–Once a public housing pioneer, Atlanta is now reconsidering the future of its plans to renovate housing projects into mixed-income lodging, The Los Angeles Times reported Monday.On Tuesday, the Atlanta Housing Authority–which pioneered the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI program more than a decade ago–will face a potential stumbling block when City Council members vote on the future of several public housing projects.The council is considering asking the Atlanta Housing Authority to halt the demolition of three of its last housing projects amidst concern about where the buildings’ 3,800 residents will go.Convinced that congregating the poor in mass residences only perpetuates poverty, the housing authority has removed more than 10,000 public housing units and plans to abolish all Atlanta public housing by 2010.In areas that once housed projects, property values have increased and crime rates have fallen. However, only roughly 17 percent of the city’s previous public housing residents have returned to the mixed-income areas, which are primarily funded by private investors, the Times said.Most are scattered around the area, paying their rent with Section 8 housing vouchers. Housing authority spokesman Rick White told the Times the agency views that as a success–an example of breaking the poverty cycle by decentralizing housing options for citizens in need of assistance.Former housing project residents were given the right to return to the mixed-income communities in the first phase of the program, if they agreed to meet strict guidelines and have home inspections; the majority chose to instead relocate using vouchers, according to White.However, residents of the three remaining complexes being considered for demolition will not be allowed to return to the former site of their housing project, which the council is concerned will cause them to move to other poor, racially divided areas. In addition, some worry the voucher system won’t provide enough money for residents to pay for higher rents and utilities. Defaults can push residents out of the Section 8 system.As a result, the housing authority now faces a debate over how much authority the city council has over the destruction of public housing, as well as resident concern over the relocation plan. A resident advisory board filed a civil rights complaint with HUD in August, alleging the housing agency was forcing low-income blacks out of Atlanta in violation of the Fair Housing Act.