You are on page 1of 5

March 15, 2008

RE: Atlanta Housing Authority and the demolition of any remaining


Units of public housing

To the esteemed members of The Atlanta City Council:

Congratulations on the new relationship with the AHA to provide for quarterly presentations and updates, 2 forums
per year and the delay of the planned demolitions including providing copies of draft demolition applications to
residents and others prior to HUD submissions, and the continuing promised cooperation. However there are other
issues I would like you to consider.

First, I would like to commend City of Atlanta Councilwoman Felicia Moore for her resolution of 2/1/2008, and
Councilwoman Mary Norwood, Councilmen Ceasar Mitchell and C. T. Martin for their work with the Housing
Authority in the development of the resolution. I applaud the other members of the Atlanta City Council who are
making the lives of the residents of public housing a priority. 2/1/2008. However, please allow me to present several
other issues I would like you to consider.

My name is Elisabeth Omilami. I am Executive Director of Hosea Feed The Hungry which I am representing today. I
have worked for many years in the greater Atlanta community, meeting with the tenants of public housing listening to
their complaints but we have been constantly focused on meeting the needs of the community as relates to rental
assistance, food, clothing, utility assistance, temporary housing, transportation and other direct services. People in this
city need so much help it is overwhelming. With such a small staff at HFTH and having so much need in the metro
Atlanta community it has been hard for me to attend the city council meetings and be more physically present and
vocal. However, I want you to know that I think about this issue every day.

This writing assumes now that the Atlanta Housing Authority will allow public housing residents to have proper input
in the decisions that affect their homes and their families. I support the policy that requires Resident Participation in
the Pre-application Phase and Beyond. Resident participation requirements must be strengthened to encompass all
phases of feasibility discussions, planning, application, redevelopment, relocation, services, and return of residents,
monitoring of displaced residents and reporting of AHA to the Atlanta City Council, HUD and Congress.

Again, I note the following statements captured by the Atlanta Progressive News from Atlanta’s public housing
residents which I am sure you have seen:

"My name was put on a document that was supposed to be signed for me not being at a January
9th meeting of the RAB Board, and... I left some literature for all Board Members to have that’s
a retraction letter. My signature that was supposed to go on... it was put on something saying I
said one thing when it wasn’t that," Elaine Olsby, President of Cosby Spears senior high rise told
the Council.
AHA submitted to Council at its last meeting a letter signed by Olsby and others saying they
supported the demolitions. However, as exclusively reported by Atlanta Progressive News, she
states that AHA misled her as to what she was signing and did not give her time to read the
letter. APN obtained a retraction letter from her today; Olsby has asked APN to send the letter to
HUD.
Statement by Elisabeth Omilami, Executive Director – Hosea Feed The Hungry and Homeless- 2
Atlanta, Georgia 3/14/08 regarding the displacement of residents of public housing
"Every time AHA states that these residents are ready to go, that is not true," Diane Wright,
President of Hollywood Courts resident association and the RAB Board, said. "I have 112
signatures from my community alone because they’re uncertain of where they’re going."
"All we’re asking for is a fair chance…to be able to sit down with the AHA to learn where we’re
going."

Additionally, we believe that the process of relocating and follow-up of the tenants of public housing displaced by
AHA (Atlanta Housing Authority)/HOPE VI funding needs further study and corrections and new procedures must be
created before any more residents are re-located. I have stated this belief in many public forums for years. Many times
I have had conversations with public housing residents about their needs and I held on, believing that one day the
Atlanta City Council would take its rightful place and oppose the mistreatment of these residents.

Many of these residents have lived in public housing or project-based Section 8 properties. As you know many of
these properties slid into disrepair and had high vacancy rates. When residents tried to organize and make their voices
heard about deteriorating conditions at these properties, they were viewed as complainers by the management and
owners. When the property eventually fell into complete disrepair, HOPE VI monies were used to re-develop the
properties as mixed income development. The number of units of affordable to extremely low income properties
became fewer and people were displaced in the process. People I knew there experienced what many public housing
residents have faced when they’ve experienced AHA/HOPE VI: lack of information about their housing choices, no
one-for-one replacement of subsidized housing, removal from their communities and unstable housing options.

Yes, you have made progress. In 2008 this has finally happened. However, HFTH believes that some AHA
demolition requirements should not be mere pieces of a list of selection criteria, which the AHA may or may not
consider, but rather should be threshold issues for AHA to receive and maintain approval from the Atlanta City
Council and that the Atlanta City Council shall not approve an application if threshold criteria are not met.

Opposition to AHA/HOPE VI remains very strong in the low income housing advocacy community that works with
and represents public housing residents. This is not based on an objection to the revitalization of public housing or
providing services to public housing residents. It is based on direct experience with the harm that AHA and
AHA/HOPE VI has caused many public housing residents. The opposition to the current AHA and its HOPE VI
implementation is visceral and deeply held, to the extent that many thoughtful people are highly skeptical that it can
be reformed and would prefer that it simply be ended. The Atlanta City Council should approach the possibility of
authorization of and AHA/HOPE VI demolition with considerable caution. Failure to provide for the capital needs of
public housing contributes to its decline and potential for becoming severely distressed. Preserving the public housing
we have that is in good condition seems to us to be a higher priority than AHA’s AHA/HOPE VI demolitions.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition says it best and they have developed a HOPE VI reauthorizing position
based on the impacts of HOPE VI projects across the country. Their recommendations focus on two major aspects of
the HOPE VI program that we believe must be addressed before the AHA should continue any demolitions or re-
locations and additional federal resources are expended: the loss of affordable housing stock and the impact of
AHA/HOPE VI on residents. Perhaps you have already considered these issues but I submit them to you for
continued consideration.

Prioritize Preservation of Public Housing

The best choice as far as I am concerned is the input of the residents as to whether they want revitalization of public
housing units through the AHA/HOPE VI program rather than demolishing or disposing of public housing units or
redeveloping units through mixed finance. I urge you to review the potential loss of public housing units and/or the
shifting of public housing units to higher income households through these practices. The same standards and
practices must be in place for all AHA public housing demolition, disposition and revitalization programs.
Statement by Elisabeth Omilami, Executive Director – Hosea Feed The Hungry and Homeless- 3
Atlanta, Georgia 3/14/08 regarding the displacement of residents of public housing
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, I quote “Preserving the public housing we have that is in
good condition seems to us to be a higher priority than a faulty HOPE VI program.” They recommend greater funding
for public housing operating and capital subsidies, both of which are sorely needed in Atlanta and nationwide.

Additionally, I would like to ask your due consideration of the following:

1. No Net Loss of Units; Require One-for-One Replacement of Public Housing. No AHA/HOPE VI project
will result in a net loss of physical public housing units to the area in which they are located. Second, no
AHA/HOPE VI project will result in a net loss of all housing units in the area that are affordable and targeted to
extremely low income households. The Atlanta City Council must not approve an AHA or AHA/HOPE VI
application unless these two conditions are met. Sufficient funding should be made available to insure full
implementation of this requirement for all AHA/HOPE VI projects, even if it results in fewer or more costly
AHA/HOPE VI projects.

These redeveloped units can be located on the original public housing location and in other locations throughout the
metropolitan area, consistent with the goals of expanding educational and economic opportunities. However, this
requirement would not preclude a resident from choosing to relocate to other existing public housing or choosing to
utilize a housing choice voucher. As implemented, redevelopment would presume and provide for the potential of all
residents in occupancy at any time in the one year period preceding the AHA’s submission of a AHA/HOPE VI
application and who remain residents of housing administered by the AHA or receive voucher assistance from the
AHA throughout the period of redevelopment to choose a redeveloped unit that is affordable and properly sized.
Residents should receive the first choice among redeveloped units in deciding where to live.

It may be better to require that sufficient replacement housing be built before the relocation so that a true transition
could occur. Since many AHA/HOPE VI projects would include offsite replacement units, a requirement that those
units be produced first would have several significant benefits. It would allow for a smooth early transition for fragile
families, while dramatically shortening the relocation process. It would demonstrate the reality of the AHA/HOPE VI
project to often skeptical tenants. And finally, it would significantly lessen the possibility that the existing tenants, on
whose behalf the AHA/HOPE VI grant is received, become victims of the redevelopment.

As stated by George Moses, Chair, Board of Directors, National Low Income Housing Coalition: “We must pay
attention to the people, to the individuals and families whose homes are being disrupted. My experience in Atlanta has
been that, even though a neighborhood’s physical appearance may not look so good from the outside, there still exists
a community. In these communities, peopled gather to talk, watch one another’s children, and form strong bonds.
When we tear these neighborhoods apart, we create what Dr. Mindy Fullilove calls “rootshock” – the trauma caused
by the disruption of a neighborhood’s root structure. The impact is both immediate and long-lasting. Dr. Fullilove is a
research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry and public
health at Columbia University.”

2. Create a Universal Right to Return With No Re-occupancy Requirements

The Atlanta City Council should enact a universal right of return for displaced public housing residents. And, public
housing agencies and any other managers of replacement housing should be prohibited from denying housing to any
person who has been displaced by AHA and AHA/HOPE VI by the use of any eligibility, screening, occupancy or
other policy or practice. As long as the resident’s right of occupancy has not been lawfully terminated, the resident
should have the right to return, regardless of the time of displacement. The universal right of return for displaced
residents must also be a “threshold issue” for approval of any AHA city contract approval application.
Statement by Elisabeth Omilami, Executive Director – Hosea Feed The Hungry and Homeless- 4
Atlanta, Georgia 3/14/08 regarding the displacement of residents of public housing
The AHA can and does impose local preferences for admission to their public housing units. Today, AHA/HOPE VI
projects may give AHA an opportunity to impose residency requirements retroactively on residents who had not
violated their leases. Their only crime, it seems, was to be a resident of an AHA/HOPE VI project. For that, existing
residents are losing perhaps their only affordable access to safe and decent housing. Re-occupancy requirements run
counter to the hope and promise a AHA/HOPE VI project should bring to existing public housing residents.

3. Mandate Compliance with the Uniform Relocation Act

The Uniform Relocation Act (URA) must apply to the AHA. A thorough relocation plan must be among the threshold
issues that allow an application to be considered by the Atlanta City Council. Each public housing resident should be
provided adequate choices for replacement housing and relocating residents should not be placed into other public
housing at the expense of families on the voucher or public housing waiting lists. The Atlanta Housing Authority
should be required by the Atlanta City Council to prove effective and resident approved re-location of all residents
tracking them for at least one year and proving that the dis-placed residents are not homeless. We all have seen
statistics on the lack of affordable housing in metro Atlanta. No need to revisit that here.

Since portions of residents at AHA/HOPE VI sites are “hard to house” (i.e., they are unlikely to thrive in the private
market or in other public housing without additional assistance beyond what is usually provided in the voucher and
public housing programs), these families must receive appropriate replacement housing. This might mean that their
housing must come with the types of services they need to remain stable and to make progress toward greater
independence. Funding must be made available to provide these services for ALL re-located residents and proof must
be proffered that these services were indeed provided until the residents’ attained self-sufficiency. And, to the extent
that a relocation plan relies on vouchers, any AHA authorization must make clear that approval of an AHA
application is contingent upon the availability of sufficient vouchers, through new appropriations or otherwise.

4. Strengthen Definition of “Severely Distressed”

A stronger definition of severely distressed than AHA and HUD currently uses is needed to ensure that AHA/HOPE
VI funds are not wasted and that viable public housing units are not lost. Today, HUD requires an architect or
engineer’s certification regarding physical distress. A stronger severely distressed definition should have to be met in
Atlanta in order for the Atlanta City Council to consider the AHA application. A reasonable requirement would state
that only public housing units that have been designated as “distressed” for purposes of required conversion at
least one year prior to the AHA application would be eligible for City Council approval. This would ensure
only the most severely distressed units are applicable.

5. Require Resident Participation Beyond Pre-application Phase

Resident participation requirements should be strengthened before and after the pre-application phase of AHA
AHA/HOPE VI to encompass all phases of feasibility discussions, planning, application, redevelopment, relocation,
services, return of residents, monitoring of displaced residents and reporting to HUD and Congress.

6. Create a Private Right of Action

I agree with NLIHC that AHA and AHA/HOPE VI provisions be privately enforceable. This way, residents will be
able to hold AHA legally accountable for non-compliance.

7. Implement Fair Housing requirements


Statement by Elisabeth Omilami, Executive Director – Hosea Feed The Hungry and Homeless- 5
Atlanta, Georgia 3/14/08 regarding the displacement of residents of public housing
The Atlanta City Council should obtain and analyze data on the potential impact on residents of any proposed AHA
AHA/HOPE VI project and should disapprove any proposed AHA AHA/HOPE VI project that fails to affirmatively
further fair housing.

8. Issue AHA/HOPE VI Regulations

HFTH also recommends that the Atlanta City Council communicate with HUD and request that the HUD Secretary
issue regulations on the HOPE VI program, which it has never done. HUD currently administers the program by
annual Notices of Funding Availability. A formal regulatory promulgation process would involve broad input from
many stakeholders and would result in a formal regulatory structure for the program.

Thank you for the opportunity to present my view to you. God bless you for your continued care for the less fortunate
of this city. “As Atlanta goes, so goes the South.”

Elisabeth
Elisabeth Omilami. Executive Director
Hosea Feed The Hungry and Homeless 1035 Donnelly Avenue SW Atlanta 30310 (404) 755-3353 ext. 307