Monday, June 22, 2009

Ruthless Is Not An Insult

The first city in the nation to build "projects" is now the first city in the nation to tear them all down. And the New York Times has noticed.

I've written previously about my experiences in the welfare and public housing systems. That particular essay should rightly be viewed as the genesis of this blog.

As you can imagine, I'm a fan of Renee Glover.
“We’ve realized that concentrating families in poverty is very destructive,” said RenĂ©e L. Glover, the executive director of the Atlanta Housing Authority. “It’s destructive to the families, the neighborhoods and the city.”
There is simple wisdom in those words. Words that echo the thoughts of that manager so long ago who shared his belief that we were engaging in apartheid.

But of course there will always be doubters and detractors.
“Until you have alternative housing that is affordable, available and appropriate, you have no business going into these communities and destroying them,” said Anita Beaty, the executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. “To disperse these people without giving them alternatives is wrong.”
Except they do. The Atlanta Housing Authority has relocated thousands and what Ms. Beaty does not tell you is her own "industry" has not seen a significant increase in business.
“What were they clapping about?” asked Shirley Hightower, a former president of the tenants’ association who picketed the demolition. “Clapping for a demolition? You’ve had generations behind generations behind generations living in this public housing. This is not a time for celebration.”
I've worked at Bowen Homes and I'd clap. Ms. Hightower derails her own protest by pointing out there have been generations after generations living in Bowen and Techwood and Perry and Capitol. Three generations condemned to a walled off, disconnected slum but the next generation will live a future outside those walls of hopelessness. It is most certainly time for celebration.
Ms. Glover...hailed as visionary by supporters and condemned as ruthless by critics.
For someone willing to grasp a Gordian's knot created by decades of govenment morass and incompetence , ruthless is not an insult - it's a job requirement.


Rusty said...

Wow, just read that original post. I get so irritated with any discussion of this topic after Reagan hoisted that racist welfare queen imagery upon it. It made the real limitations of the system impossible to discuss because you always had to spend 10 minutes explaining to people why that was bullshit. That also happens to be most peoples' attention spans for such discussions, so you don't get to the part about concentrated poverty.

Stefan Turkheimer said...

Shirley Hightower is a little crazy. I wish someone would print her ramblings about the Atlanta Police being aliens. That's my favorite of her tropes.

That said, it isn't clear where the people from the projects are going. There was a plan to rely on Section 8 but the vouchers requested don't add up to the population moved. Additionally, it is unknown what neighborhoods and cities end up providing that housing, if it is provided at all.

The idea was to provide short-term housing, not generational people storage. We should have a safety net, but it's not there for decades. I am not sure I would clap when they were demolished, but it is time for the projects to end.

Bret said...

I remember growing up, accompanying my father (a DFACS investigator on welfare fraud and child abuse) on trips to these projects, and I honestly could not believe how these people lived. Seemed to me almost like the modern equivalent of concentration camps, though the barbed wire fences may have been more psychological than physical. Glad to hear they're going the way of the dodo...

delicateflower said...

I wish the media would stop quoting Anita Beaty. Most people in the anti-homelessness community consider her to be an extremist, and non-representative of the general opinion.

Unknown said...

The timing turns out to be bad for this too. At a time when many people are losing their jobs and their homes, thousands of former public housing residents are in the market looking for rental units that will take a voucher. And there aren't enough units for everybody. The AHA isn't even accepting applications to get on the voucher waiting list.

The phrase on the AHA website says a lot: "Housing Choice provides portable assistance. By following the proper guidelines, families can move to any other city that has a comparable Housing Choice program."