The Death of Public Housing (The Law of Unintended Consequences)

(PK NOTE: This will be a three-part series, with the third entry – most likely – being posted at VDare, to celebrate the legacy of the 1996 Coca-Cola Olympic Games in Atlanta. That legacy is not what was originally intended.)

Tearing down public housing; spreading poverty through vouchers

‘Public housing’. Two words that, when uttered separately, have a far different meaning then when they’re combined, eliciting a predetermined response of dread if approaching near one in your car. More to the point, the mere thought of public housing conjures up visions of crime, misery, neglected children, a massive police presence, drugs, prostitution… basically a level of Dante’s The Inferno that makes you understand hell is on earth.

And it’s in a place called ‘public housing’.

In the city of Atlanta, gradual white flight to the suburban (metro) area created a Black Hole of poverty directly in the heart of the New South’s capital city. This Black Hole of poverty resided in “public housing” that one out of every 10 Atlanta residents called home.

The Atlanta Housing Authority’s Olympic Legacy Program: Public Housing Projects To Mixed Income Communities By Harvey K. Newman documents the concentration of poverty in “public housing” in Atlanta — which no one dares points out looks oddly like the current state of 90 percent Black Detroit (p.7 in the PDF):

While many of these blacks moved to northern cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, others left rural areas in the south for Atlanta. Sensing the change, many whites fled Atlanta, so that by 1970, a majority of the city’s residents were black. This process of white flight from the City of Atlanta and its housing projects hastened the decline in the city’s population as more than 100,000 people left Atlanta during the twenty years after 1970. From a peak of 496,973 in 1970, the city counted only 394,017 residents in 1990. At the same time, the suburban area outside the City of Atlanta added more than 1.5 million people, creating a metropolitan area of almost 3 million by 1990.

There were several important consequences of this change in the city’s population. First, the expansion of public housing left the City of Atlanta with one of the highest concentrations of public housing residents per capita of any city in the nation. While cities such as New York and Chicago had larger numbers of citizens living in public housing, Atlanta had a higher ratio of public housing residents compared to those not living in public housing. Almost one out of every ten residents of the City of Atlanta lived in public housing. The presence of other poor residents in the city gave Atlanta the second highest concentration of poverty (behind Newark, New Jersey) of any city in the US. 

Yes, during the height of Atlanta’s reign as the Black Mecca of America, one out of every 10 residents of the city lived in public housing. And, as Howard Husock of City Journal wrote in The Washington Times, 98 percent of the occupants of public housing in Atlanta were Black.

It was this concentration of Black people in public housing that vexed police (Black people in public housing helped contribute to Atlanta’s vice on being the most dangerous city in America for years), befuddled Crusading White Pedagogues (CWP) attempting to find the magic formula to stop the Waiting for Superman and close the racial gap in learning, and helped keep the Atlanta Black political machine moving forward.

What do we mean by that latter statement? Well, on July 14, 2001, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published a story that basically lamented the end of the Black political machine
(Black activists change vote tactics: Demographics, computers bring new political reality, Julie Hairston, AJC), which included this hilarious anecdote:

Public housing voters accounted for much of Mayor Bill Campbell’s 4,191-vote margin of victory in 1997. But his second term as mayor has scattered that once-accessible constituency to the far reaches of the metro area.


Public housing edge gone


In a close race, those votes could make a winning difference as they did for Campbell in his re-election race against Marvin Arrington. But candidates will have to look for many ways to reach voters, political observers say.


Louise Watley has been a public housing leader committed to politics in the black community all of her adult life. She has been registering black voters and taking them to the polls since the 1960s.


“It used to be very easy and very simple,” said Watley. “You knew who the registered voters were and you could just send a letter out” telling them who to vote for.


Angelo Fuster, a political strategist who began his career with Jackson in the 1970s, said public housing was an essential element in turning out black voters.


“It used to be that Techwood Homes was a prime place. You could go and hustle up 1,000 people just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers in the air.


Since 1995, though, Watley has watched as six of the city’s largest public housing projects have been redeveloped and most of their residents dispersed to places as far-flung as Stockbridge. Where thousands of voters with identical political leanings once lived within effortless reach of transport vans and a day’s worth of door-to-door greetings, mixed-income communities of highly transient newcomers with no particular political loyalties now dwell.


Watley said public housing contained as many as 20,000 registered voters a decade ago. Now, only about 4,000 of those voters remain, she said.

Wait a second? What in the world happened to public housing in Atlanta? 20,000 registered voters prepared to vote on pertinent matters, if only a van can drive them to and from the polling place… down to less than 1/4 its political power!

Now, this number is in the hundreds since public housing was completely removed from Atlanta. NPR decried the breakup of concentrated Black poverty in public housing in this article(Atlanta Housing Demolition Sparks Outcry, Kathy Lohr, March 10, 2008):

The Atlanta Housing Authority has already demolished 11 complexes since 1994 and plans to get rid of another dozen in the next two years. In most cases, mixed-income housing was built on those sites, and some of the homes were set aside for low-income residents. Residents got vouchers that they could take anywhere to find rental housing. 

Renee Glover, CEO of the housing authority, says there are “a lot of good choices” for families to find housing.

 One of the primary considerations a white family must consider before moving into an area is the ability to safely raise a family; the quality of schools near said house for kids to be sent too; and the ability for that home to appreciate in value.

The 2010 Atlanta Housing Voucher Riot – 30,000 Blacks…

None of this is possible in a city with a large population of Black people, hence the need to for white flight. At one point, the metro Atlanta suburbs boasted schools with some of the highest standardized test scores in all the land; property values that seemed destined to only head north; and crime-free cities whose police force spent their time handing out speeding tickets.

The HOPE VI AND MIXED-FINANCE REDEVELOPMENTS: A CATALYST FOR NEIGHBORHOOD RENEWAL: ATLANTA CASE STUDY made clear the severity of the Black criminal problem that once existed in Atlanta public housing (PDF, p. 2) and served as a reminder of why white flight transpires:

Fifty years after being unveiled as the nation’s first slum-clearance public housing development, Techwood Homes and its sister development, Clark Howell Homes, were urban nightmares. In 1993, over one-third of the 1,195 barracks-style units were vacant and another third were occupied by overcrowded households. Despite $15 million worth of repairs in 1981, the units had outdated heating, sewer, and plumbing systems as well as lead-based paint. More than 1,000 emergency work orders—nearly one per unit—remained to be completed at the two developments. Crime was rampant; in 1992, there were a total of 8,670 police and security field responses—an average of one every hour for the entire year. The 913 serious crimes reported at the developments in 1992 represented an average of more than one per household.

Because of the law of the Visible Black Hand of Economics, Black people who inherited Atlanta were unable to thrive without government mandated minority contracting and affirmative action programs; levels of poverty for Black people whose lives weren’t enriched by the spoils of The Atlanta Way were drenched in the muck of avarice to the tune of some of the highest poverty rates in all the land. 

Now… many of these same counties reflect the majority Black population that calls them home, while Atlanta attracts a renaissance of white people (and thus, a rebirth of tax-revenue instead of having a population largely incapable of producing wealth).

They, in turn, are prepared to enact laws that deprive the dwindling white populations stranded there (primary due to a loss of personal wealth, directly tied to the home they own: its depreciation correlated tragically with the demise of the white population and rise of the Black population) of the same ability to generate wealth that the Black political structure in Atlanta once did to whites who weren’t connected to the capitalist elite — all the while relying on the sturdy Black vote from public housing! An editorial by Mike King in the Atlanta Journal Constitution published in June of 2007 addressed the important subject of “Blacks leaders concerned about losing power“:

It’s rare when Atlanta politicians talk frankly, especially in public, about race and power.

So, Mayor Shirley Franklin’s candid assessment last week that African-Americans are in danger of losing their Atlanta political base marks an important threshold in the evolution of one of the first American cities to be governed almost exclusively by black leaders.

It suggests that the demographic changes happening within the growing city population portend a time, very soon, when blacks will have to share much more power with whites — not unlike the reversal of fortune the city’s white politicians faced when a young Maynard Jackson was elected mayor 35 years ago.


And on a base level, it might explain, in part, the motivation behind the radio ad last year by Franklin, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former Mayor Andrew Young, exhorting Fulton County residents to vote for black county commission candidates or risk bringing back the days when fire hoses and attack dogs were turned on black Americans demanding voting rights.

The images conjured up in the radio ad — that the days of Jim Crow might return in Fulton County if blacks surrender power to whites — were reckless and irresponsible.
The mayor’s most recent assessment of Atlanta politics was much more subtle. But the theme was similar.

Franklin, speaking at an urban affairs symposium in Washington, noted that “there are concerns” about the loss of African-American political dominance in the city, which once had a minority population that was pushing 70 percent. Blacks still represent 58.6 percent of the city’s population, but much of Atlanta’s growth over the last 15 years — when it went from less than 400,000 people to more than 470,000 — has been fueled by whites. With nearly all the city’s public housing demolished and its population dispersed around the metro area, the two races could reach a rough parity in the next five to 10 years.


Since Jackson’s rise to power, political decisions in Atlanta, and to some degree in Fulton County and DeKalb County as well, have been measured by whether they benefit whites or blacks most. Everything — how the airport is run, who is chosen police chief, school superintendent or chief executive for Grady Hospital, who gets government contracts — has been weighed against whether blacks are getting their fair share or whites are attempting to regain control.

“African Americans of the city of Atlanta have been the most progressive on issues of inclusion of anyone,” Franklin told the group. “In our metropolitan area there have been traditions of exclusion, so we are concerned that the loss of political power might undermine the progression of these social policies.”

To paraphrase: When we got the power, we set the rules. If we lose power, the rules might change.

Sound familiar? If you’re older than 50, you may remember white politicians saying essentially the same thing after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.

Franklin wasn’t specific about what she means when she says the city is “progressive on issues of inclusion,” but the current debate in Clayton County — which may be the largest recipient of Atlanta’s dispersed black population — might provide some indication.

There, blacks represent 62 percent of the population, but only in recent years has the county elected black leaders, including County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell and County Sheriff Victor Hill. The NAACP president and other black leaders in Clayton are demanding that the county implement an affirmative action plan designed to award more contracts to minority-owned businesses.

If Clayton takes that step, it will be the first metro government to do so in years. Under Jackson, Atlanta was among the first cities to enact rules requiring set-asides in major contracts for minority subcontractors. But those rules were weakened as a result of a lawsuit in the 1990s. Bill Campbell, then mayor, famously likened the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to the Ku Klux Klan.

It didn’t seem to matter that the set-asides were constitutionally questionable and cost the city millions. They also played an important role in Campbell running the most corrupt administration in the city’s history. Under his watch contracts were awarded not based on whether they might help a struggling business, but how they might help Bill Campbell and his cronies.

As Atlanta’s white politicians learned years ago — and its current band of black leaders may soon discover — it’s hard to give up the power to make the rules.

Five years later, DeKalb County is in economic chaos; Clayton County the foreclosure capital of America. Those white politicians who warned about the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the consequences therein… their voices can be heard echoing through the ruins throughout metro Atlanta.

Husock, writing in the Autumn 2010 of City Journal, bragged about the wonders of Atlanta tearing down its public housing (Atlanta’s Public-Housing Revolution:Renee Glover has torn down blighted projects, required tenants to work, and transformed lives) without mentioning the crisis that is brewing: what happens to the areas where the former residents of Atlanta public housing – 99 percent o of whom were Black – use their vouchers to call home?:

Crime rates, moreover, are consistently high in and around public housing, and voucher units have been widely implicated in the spread of social problems to formerly safe areas. The problem is financial, as well: housing vouchers alone, which didn’t even exist until 1974, now cost taxpayers $18 billion, more than the $16.9 billion that we spend on welfare. And it’s a policy that disproportionately affects the African-American poor. Nearly 45 percent of public-housing tenants are black, as are 42 percent of voucher recipients.

All this makes what Renee Glover is doing in Atlanta so important. Since 1994, Glover, a child of Jim Crow–era Jacksonville, Florida, has led the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA)—the nation’s fifth-largest public-housing system, with 50,000 tenants and voucher recipients, 99 percent of them, like her, African-American. She has drawn national recognition for the fact that during her tenure, Atlanta became the first city in the United States to tear down virtually all its projects.

But Glover’s plan is far more ambitious than demolition: she has set out to transform the dysfunctional behavior that condemns people to languish for years in public housing. Her approach is the most dramatic change in any city’s public-housing system since Franklin Roosevelt created the program in 1937.

When Glover first took charge of the AHA, just 18.5 percent of household heads in the city’s bleak projects held jobs. At a time when Atlanta overall had the nation’s highest murder rate, crime was six times higher in the projects than the city average. Lawlessness prevailed in these campus-style complexes. Drug gangs had their own apartments for conducting business, such as grisly initiation ceremonies (in one, teenagers performed oral sex on a six-year-old boy to prove that no act was too horrible to commit). Calls to 911 were so numerous, Atlanta police lieutenant Scott Kreher recalls, that reports of anything but the worst violent crime had to wait, sometimes for more than eight hours. “It was very common to start the night shift with 50 or 60 calls pending,” he says. In part, that’s because the projects came alive at night, especially during the summer. With so few residents working, most slept during the heat of the day and came out after dark. “You’d think it was midday at midnight. Everyone was out barbecuing, partying on the porches. And you were always hearing gunfire.”

All this was happening in places built to eradicate slums, whose immorality had so shocked progressives a century ago. Not surprisingly, real-estate development in the neighborhoods surrounding the projects was essentially nonexistent for decades, though the rest of the city boomed, say Atlanta development officials.

For Glover, the projects were clearly a “toxic environment” to be leveled—and she proceeded to do it. Starting with grants from the Clinton-era Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and then using private financing, she reduced the city’s 14,000 public-housing units to 2,000, most of them in complexes for the elderly. Gone were crime-ridden projects like Bowen Homes—immortalized in a rap lyric by the Shop Boyz: “My hood I love them ladies, / My hood I love them babies, / I can’t forget my niggas, / Bowen Homes we love you baby!” Glover then leased the land to private developers, who built apartment and townhouse complexes there; in return, the developers agreed to dedicate 40 percent of the new units to tenants who qualified for public housing. Two-fifths of the projects’ residents relocated to these “mixed-income” complexes. The remaining three-fifths received housing vouchers and used them to move into other private apartment buildings.

The course of history can change quickly. It just requires people being granted another option outside of the continued direction of narrow, political thought and debate.

Public housing units nationwide are being torn down, the concentration of Black crime and poverty no longer contained; your government is actively dispersing public housing residents throughout major metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Memphis, and Chicago.

It seems our government is intent on spreading The Inferno of public housing, by redistributing the poverty (Black people) to areas lacking the enrichment of diversity.

We’ll explore much more in part two tomorrow.

Until then, remember: White America owes Black America nothing; especially those living who once lived in public housing or who now have “vouchers”…

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