The Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) is preparing to demolish its four remaining public housing projects some time next year, with residents beginning to relocate last month. When the charges blow, Atlanta will become the first major U.S. metro to completely eradicate its so-called “projects,” replacing them with Hope VI redevelopments and a deregulated Section 8 voucher program that gives residents a wider range of rental options across the city.
“Affordable housing has got to be a part of mainstream America, and we should never go back to isolating families around a need,” says AHA President and CEO Renee Lewis Glover about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's July 2 demolition green light. While Glover recognizes the idealism of the public housing system conceived by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she adds that increased bureaucracy and oversight requirements unintentionally created “a housing of last resort, a default system for those with nowhere else to go, a warehousing of people in concentrated areas of poverty and crime.”
So what's different for the 1,300 residents relocating now? Opportunity, choice, and even more importantly, jobs, Glover says. “We have coupled Hope VI and the subsidy program with human services coaching and counseling for a period of five years,” Glover says. “We must connect people to the culture of work.” The results speak for themselves: A 2005 study by Georgia Tech found that prior to AHA's revitalization efforts in 1994, unemployment in Atlanta's projects hovered at 79 percent. At the end of the 2008 fiscal year (this June), more than 80 percent of able-bodied adults in the AHA program were engaged in the workforce, Glover says.
Other major U.S. metros seem poised to follow AHA's lead. On July 1, the Las Vegas Housing Authority Board approved an effort to seek permission from HUD to begin demolition of its existing subsidized housing, and agencies in Chicago, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and Baltimore have announced similar plans. To date, more than 100 housing authorities have visited AHA to tour Atlanta and “kick the tires” on its program, Glover says. “It is an opportunity-rich time to be addressing these issues,” she says. “We have seen great success and a great embrace of this vision.”