The Atlanta public housing project Herndon Homes, located off of Northside Drive, is being torn down. It was one of the few remaining housing projects left in the city following an ambitious initiative to replace the projects with mixed-income communities.
The demolition, which started earlier in the winter, is slated to be finished by May. Once it is torn down and housing market conditions are more favorable the land will be shopped around to developers and non-profits for development, according to Atlanta Housing Authority spokesman Rick White.
White says that close to 250 families used to live in Herndon Homes, and those who qualify have been given certificates that allowed them to relocate to other private-sector homes and apartments and pay the same amount of rent. "I think it's been extremely effective, " White says, "and I think the affected families would tell you so. It has allowed families to move into much safer areas, areas closer to their employment and with better schools."
Deiredre Oakley, assistant professor at Georgia State, has been working with her colleagues on a study that has followed 400 individuals who used to live in Atlanta public housing. In the last year, Bowen Homes, Bankhead Courts, Hollywood courts, Thomasville Heights, Herndon Homes, Hollywood Court, MLK Tower and University Homes have all been razed. Palmer and Roosevelt houses are slated to be imploded later this year. Most of the city's other projects were demolished starting in the '90s.
"I would say there are individual successes if you take the the program as a whole, but I don't think you can say based on our data that the program is a complete success," Oakley says. "The outcomes are very mixed. There are some people who do really well, but there are problems that come up."
Among the problems Oakley cites from her study are the continued segregation of Atlanta's poor, with former housing residents relocating to neighborhoods which are almost as bad as the neighborhoods they left. (Ostensibly, the aim of the demolition was to see that low-income residents be dispersed among middle-income neighborhoods.) "Public housing had a poverty rate, on average, of 44 percent," she says, "and in the neighborhoods they are moving into, it's an average 30 percent."
Another thing she has found is that many former residents have had to move more then once because of negligent landlords and poor upkeep of apartments. If a subsidized apartment fails its federal inspection, the resident is forced to move giving an already marginalized population even less stability, Oakley says. "This has happened to 25 percent of the 200 people with whom we have completed follow-up interviews. Around 20 percent have had to move more then once."
According to Oakley the destruction of public housing could have negative effects over time for the city's poor. "Very very affordable housing is being destroyed, and you are not replacing it at the same rate," she points out. "All the fixed, low-income housing is being destroyed and greater dependence is [placed] on private rental market housing."
Unlike with traditional public housing, "there is no guarantee that the housing will remain low income overtime," Oakley says, "which could result in people with really low incomes not having any place to live."
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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