The Atlanta Housing Authority has faced criticism before over its ambition to raze the city's housing projects. But a plan to tear down two Westside high-rises pits the authority against a group with a substantial political constituency: senior citizens.
The AHA, as part of its "Quality of Life" initiative, plans to tear down the Palmer House and the Roosevelt House, both on Centennial Park Drive, over the next two years. The action will displace more than 500 people, and advocates say they have no place to go. The Fulton County Commission has already unanimously passed a resolution that asks the AHA to halt the demolition until alternative housing can be found for the residents. It also asks the AHA to offer the residents the "right of first refusal" to new housing built at the current sites.
In late June, senior citizens went to Atlanta City Council. "We cannot afford to lose our affordable housing stock for seniors," says Dianne Williamson of the Fulton County Council on Aging, who attended the City Council meeting. "Moving them out of their community can be devastating for older people."
In response, the council's Community Development/Human Resources Committee agreed to hold a work session on July 19 to discuss the AHA "Quality of Life" initiative.
Over the past few years, AHA has demolished numerous housing projects and replaced them with mixed-income communities. Advocates say AHA has decentralized poverty and decreased crime, while opponents say it's difficult for residents to find private landlords inside the city, close to public transportation and health care. To date, AHA has given almost 2,000 families housing vouchers to relocate and the agency says 82 percent of those families have stayed inside the city.
City Councilman H. Lamar Willis, who sits on the committee, says he fears the county is trying to put the issue solely in the city's lap. "I don't mind if they put pressure on the city to do our part, but what is Fulton County and every other entity that has a responsibility doing as well?" he says.
Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell says the county wants to do its part, which is why it wants to slow the timetable for the demolition. "I'm certainly not interested in jurisdictional issues," Darnell says. "I just want to fix the problem."