To Develop or To Demolish: Closing of Atlanta Housing Projects

Before you can rebuild

Photo courtesy of http://www.racheltanurmemorialprize.org

 Atlanta was the first city to provide public housing to its residents, but they were also the first city to remove their housing projects. It’s now been five years since the last public housing project was demolished in Atlanta. The Atlanta Housing Authority demolished 17,000 public housing units, 24 housing projects, and replaced them with 10 mixed-income housing developments (Oakley, Ruel and Wilson). As a result, there has been debate in the city and country about the redevelopment of the housing projects in Atlanta. Inquiring minds would ask several questions regarding public housing. What happened to each of the thousands of families once affordable housing was removed? What does eliminating public housing mean for these neighborhoods? Does redevelopment bring the necessary changes to the city promised by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development?

why are they moving

Public housing was created to provide low-income families safe and decent housing. Federal and local housing policies made projects that were “racially segregated, economically isolated, under-funded, poorly managed and inadequately maintained” (Turner, 1). By the 1980s, problems with crime, poverty, unemployment, and social suffering played a part in the destruction of the original objective of safe and decent housing. Residential communities lacked proper maintenance, security, community resources and neighboring job opportunities. Making public housing be seen as a failure of this country’s government.

In response, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and local public housing agencies launched new strategies intended to bring change to troubled public housing communities. In Public Housing and the Legacy of Segregation, the authors outline three aspirations of HUD for the transformation of public housing:

“First, healthy, mixed-income housing developments will replace distressed public housing projects. Second, public housing residents who do not return to the new developments will relocate to affordable housing in other healthy and opportunity-rich communities. Third, families that leave and those who live in the new replacement housing, will progress toward greater economic well-being and self-sufficiency.” (Turner, 2)

Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE VI) was a government policy launched in 1992 to demolish the worst public housing properties, all over America, and replace them with new, mixed-income developments. Atlanta was the first city to begin tearing down their housing projects.

03_hopeVI_board

An individual can support the desire to redevelop these communities because research and a drive through an Atlanta neighborhood illustrates that the conditions of some public housing projects were inadequate for anyone to live in. As a minority scholar, one can also recognize the relevance of race, the late concern from the government and the neglect for the poor. It makes one question, will programs and policies like HOPE VI help restore public housing or displace minorities? [Like other government policies have done in the past.]

After the 1906 riots in Atlanta, African American residents were making the necessary changes to calm racial tensions in the city. Before the riot, the African American population was increasing rapidly and that caused concerns for the White residents who feared “job competition, social mixing and heightened class distinctions” (Mixon). In The Racial Origins of Zoning in American Cities, Christopher Silver explains how the riot resulted in the Black community’s relocation from the eastside to the westside, in order to; separate themselves from White Atlantans and their neighborhoods.

          race riot 3

 race riot 1      race riot 2

In Atlanta, racial zoning was established in the 20s when city developers wanted to make Atlanta what planning consultant, Warren Manning, described as “a beautiful, orderly place, the wonder city of the southeast” (Silver, 34). This “development” process continued on from the 20s at the cost of displacing African American Atlantans. Around the same time, zoning was initiated to “improve the physical environment where people lived and worked,”(Silver, 24) in many American cities. Similar to public housing, zoning soon became a “system of racial segregation” (Silver, 24) that legally rejected African Americans and immigrants from the expanding communities.

In 1996, the Olympic Games came to Atlanta. Before the ceremony could begin, the city had to make some social and geographical changes. Atlanta wanted the games to be condensed in one area. “The Olympic ring was a three-mile circle in downtown Atlanta where nineteen of the thirty sporting events would take place at nine different locations” (Rutheiser, 232). The three-mile circle included, “all of downtown, much of midtown and a large swathe of Atlanta’s poorest neighborhoods” (Rutheiser, 232). The main part of the Olympic Ring was the Olympic Center, which encompassed the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center and the Omni Arena.

1a-003-ss-05-zbaker-sm1a-002-ss-06-baker-smCourtesy of southernspaces.org

Techwood/ Clark Howell public housing projects was located near the Olympic Center. Plans to get rid of Techwood were constructed to create a mixed-income neighborhood, initiating Atlanta’s redevelopment process. This arrangement caused some tension in the city by opening up old wounds from the 60s.

Techwood Homes was the first public housing development in the United States, built in 1936, to house only White Atlantans. “The civil rights legislation of the 1960s integrated both Techwood and Clark Howell, and soon they were 50 percent Black” (Vale). Some white Atlantians thought, if new communities became more urban, crime would increase. The CEO of Coca Cola at that time proposed a plan to “demolish the public housing and build a middle-income apartment complex with its own shopping mall, theatre, recreation area and park” (Vale). This plan was not implemented at that time, so, like many public housing projects Techwood and Clark Howell suffered from decades of neglect and distress. “In 1992 the neighborhood crime rate was 69 percent higher than the city average, and in 1993 the two projects alone accounted for 5,654 police dispatches, about five percent of the city total” (Vale).

 Techwood photo #1

Techwood photo #2

Techwood Photo #3

In the spring of 1993, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the Atlanta Housing Authority’s sale of the Techwood and Clark Howell projects to the University System of Georgia. The plan was originally rejected in 1992 because “the AHA failed to provide adequate replacement housing” (Rutheiser, 240). But when the deal was approved “only 65 of the 114 units remained occupied, residents resisted being relocated to a privately owned middle-income apartment complex in a largely African-American section of northwest Atlanta, and a year and a half after the sale the AHA was still working to find permanent replacement housing for many of the displacees” (Rutheiser, 240). The Techwood and Clark Howell projects turned into a set of luxury apartments called Centennial Place, Centennial Olympic Park and the World of Coke. “When the rental units of Centennial Place were all occupied, in 2000, only 78 families from the former Techwood and Clark Howell Homes were re-housed — just seven percent of the population when the planning process began” (Vale).

Techwood Today photo #4

The development

Photos Courtesy of placesjournal.com

Bankhead Courts, a 386-unit housing project near the boundary line of Fulton and Cobb counties, was built in 1970 and demolished in 2009. “The housing project was often a battleground between drug dealers who terrorized tenants and community leaders who tried to fight back with anti-crime initiatives” (Eubank). Bankhead Courts is currently awaiting redevelopment because “the development is surrounded by industrial land and it’s isolated from the rest of the neighborhood” (The Georgia Conservancy). The plan is to mix industrial and residential land, which could provide job opportunities to residents. As part of the HOPE VI program, residents of demolished developments got “vouchers to cut the cost of rent and utilities in their new homes” (Eubank). According to residents who remained nearby, although the public housing has been demolished, illegal activity still takes place in the area (Day).

 Bankhead Courts photo #2 Bankhead Courts photo #3

Courtesy of The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Thomasville Heights was a 350-unit housing project built in 1967, demolished in 2010, and replaced with section-8 housing, Forest Cove Apartment. Unlike Bankhead Courts, Thomasville Heights was redeveloped, but it’s still viewed as a dangerous neighborhood. This past October, a 1-year-old boy was shot in the arm when caught in the crossfire between a group of men (Atlanta Journal Constitution ).

thomasville

Courtesy of flickr.com

forest cove                                                Courtesy of gmfonline.org

Techwood Homes, Bankhead Courts and Thomasville Heights represent the three different outcomes of eliminating public housing. In the case of Techwood Homes, affordable housing was replaced with mixed-income housing which majority of the original residents can not afford. Bankhead Courts was demolished and never restored. Thomasville Heights was restored, but the community was not transformed. When the Atlanta Housing Authority demolished public housing three things happened:

“ 1. There was a loss of affordable housing.

  1. Poor indigenous residents were forcibly displaced.
  2. Indigenous sociological communities were destroyed.” (Keating)

This all distresses the poor African American community with “77 percent of all public housing residents being African Americans and living in areas with 40 percent or more poverty” (Goering, 31).

 data 1 data 2 data 3

Courtesy of city-data.com

Was demolishing all of the public housing communities in Atlanta necessary? To justify their actions policy makers refer to the high crime in these areas. Crime data from the Atlanta Police Department shows a crime rate of 309 to 636.81 per 1,000 (Oakley, Ruel and Wilson). Residents say its because of the lack of parental guidance and police availability. But how is destroying people’s homes going to fix that? Increasing police presence in these areas is necessary. This will allow the residents who are in fear to feel a bit safer knowing they are protected.

Another reason these housing projects were destroyed was because of how they looked. Some residents agreed but believed the conditions of these buildings could be made better with an updated air conditioner, carpet, remodeled bathrooms and kitchens.

Public housing is a necessity for low-income families. I’m sure some people wanted to move, but now there’s a shortage of affordable housing. So, where did people who did not want to move or could not move go? In Atlanta, HOPE VI, HUD and AHA presented no options for people who could not relocate. For the other American cities demolishing their public housing, provide your low-income residents more options, don’t destroy all of your housing projects and promise your citizens they will be okay financially.

 Ma’Lika Tolbert is a double major in Economics and Organizational Management & Africana Studies with a minor in Film and Media Studies at Agnes Scott College.

Works Cited

Atlanta Journal Constitution . “Arrest made in shooting of 1-year-old boy in SE Atlanta. 27 October 2014. Atlanta Journal Constitution . 24 April 2015 <http://www.ajc.com/news/news/doctors-work-to-save-arm-of-1-year-old-                 shot-in-se-/nhsRy/>.

Day, Ron. “What Remains Where Public Housing Was.” 24 November 2012. SocialShutter. 24 April 2015 <http://socialshutter.blogspot.com/2012/11/what-       remains where-public-housing-was.html>.

Eubank, Elissa. “Bankhead Courts Demolished Photo Gallery.” 26 February 2010. Atlanta Journal Constitution. 21 April 2015 <http://www.ajc.com/gallery/news/local/bankhead-demolition–0210/gsGq/#2223659&gt;.

Goering, John M., and Ali Kamely. The Location and Racial Composition of Public Housing in the United States: An Analysis of the Racial Occupancy and Location of Public Housing Developments. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, 1994.

Keating, Larry. “The Development, Redeveopment, and Gentrification of Atlanta’s Housing .” Past Trends and Future Prospects of the American City . Ed. David L. Sjoquist. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2009. 251-289.

Mixon, Gregory, and Clifford Kuhn. “Atlanta Race Riot of 1906.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 09 December 2014. Web. 16 April 2015.

Oakley, Deirdre, Erin Ruel and G. Elton Wilson. “A Choice with No Options: Atlanta Public Housing Residents’ Lived Experiences in the Face of Relocation.” A Preliminary Report. Georgia State University, n.d.

Rutheiser, Charles. Imagineering Atlanta The Politics of Place in the City of Dreams. New York: Verso, 1996. Print.

Silver, Christopher. “The Racial Origins of Zoning in American Cities.” The Urban Planning and the African American Community (1997): 23-42. Print.

The Georgia Conservancy. NPU-G Community Master Plan A Live-Work-Play Approach to Upward Mobility Blueprints for Successful Communities . Blueprint. Atlanta, 2010.

Turner, Margery Austin, Susan J. Popkin, and Lynette Rawlings. Public Housing and the Legacy of Segregation. Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2009. Print.

Vale, Lawrence, and Annemarie Gray. “The Displacement Decathlon: Atlanta 1996 to Rio 2016.” Places Journal. 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2015 <https://placesjournal.org/article/the-displacement-decathlon/&gt;.

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