Tuesday, December 30, 2008

First Person: Diane Wright, former public housing tenant

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 7:27 PM

click to enlarge Diane Wright, outside her new apartment
  • Diane Wright, outside her new apartment

Editor's note: This is the first in a regular series of commentaries that gives voice to those not commonly heard in Atlanta media.

For nearly two decades, Diane Wright, 63, lived in Hollywood Courts, one of the last public housing projects left in Atlanta. Most of the rest have  been demolished to make way for mixed-income communities. Wright was the longtime president of her residents' association, as well as president of the group representing all Atlanta housing projects. In that capacity, she was an outspoken critic of the displacement of public housing residents. She also was a business owner under the federal government's Section 3 program, which provides grants to low-income entrepreneurs.

I'm from Chicago. When I moved, I was in my late 40s. I had went back to school. I got a degree in accounting. One of my girlfriends was living down here, and she told me Atlanta was a great place to live. This was '88, '89.

I moved into public housing. When I first went there, it was hell. But we got together and formed our organization. And then we started working with the residents. We told the dope boys that we wanted them out of there. We knew most of them. I hired some of them, too. I even asked the housing authority about that. They said that would be a good idea.

[Housing authority officials] always would come to me when they want something done. They wanted a Section 3 [business]. They came to me to start the business. I've been hiring people that come out of prison and go into a halfway house. I never had a problem.

All of a sudden, here comes the [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] investigators. They pulled me aside, into the maintenance shop. And then they showed me a picture of this person, and told me he used my address. I used to go with him, and he became a sex offender. He used my address [on Georgia's sex-offender registry], but he used it without me knowing it. The sheriff's department didn't come to my house, didn't check his address or anything.

I've never had any problem, nothing with a criminal check or background check. I've never been to jail. But still, all of a sudden, they treat me like I'm the criminal.

They started the eviction process on me. It started in March of this year. You've got to keep on appealing. You go to court and they act like they don't know who's telling the truth. I couldn't take it no more. I just got up and got out. I couldn't take the pressure no more. I just moved Thursday [Dec. 11].

I am not angry with them. But they didn't just evict me. It's like they took a lot of my dignity.

When one of the residents asked them if they were having any meetings, they said there is no association any more. I was the association. Who can I help now? You understand what I'm saying? I can't do nothing. I was speaking against what they were doing. The only thing that I wanted to happen was to make sure the residents had a decent place to go.

There are people losing their jobs. If they're losing their jobs, they're losing their homes. Where are they going to live? Where's the middle class now? They're on the streets with the rest of them. Now the safety net is gone, even for what you call the middle class. It don't make any sense.

The allegations raised by Wright have been made in Fulton County court. According to her attorney, her case is now before the Georgia Court of Appeals.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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