Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Remains Where Public Housing Was

Posted by Ron Day, ATLANTA, GA -- It's been almost three years since Bankhead Courts, Hollywood Courts and Bowen Homes (among others) were demolished as part of the Atlanta Housing Authority's initiative to raze all of its project-based family public housing communities. The underlying assumption behind these demolitions was that elimination of public housing would deconcentrate poverty and therefore make the neighborhood a better place to live. All the families are now gone and the only public housing relics that escaped the bulldozer are the front entrances, now surrounded by metal gates, razor and barbed wire, as well as no trespassing signs. Peering through these prison-like fortresses one sees huge empty green spaces where the buildings stood for 40 or so years. The Housing Authority says it will rebuild mixed income communities on these sites when the economy improves. However, seeing as Bankhead Courts was built over a former landfill, I don't think the prospects for redevelopment are ideal. Both Bowen Homes and Hollywood Courts, while not built over a landfill, are not in 'marketable' locations either.

For residents remaining in the neighborhood, the elimination of public housing hasn't changed much of anything. “...the projects are gone but it’s still the same. People still pushing dope, folks still getting killed,” says Shay Gaddis, a resident of a newer apartment complex across the street from the vacant land that was once Bowen Homes.  No new businesses have moved in and, in fact, many of the old businesses have closed since the demolitions. Likewise, there are still private market slum lords renting substandard housing to very poor families, and the fact that a major thoroughfare runs through the neighborhood means that it remains an ideal spot for drug sales. All of this points to one glaring misconception: what hasn't been recognized in policy circles lauding poverty deconcentration through public housing demolition is that much of the illegal activity in the neighborhood did not come from the public housing residents themselves. Public housing elimination alone won't change the neighborhood and we'll never know if fixing it up would have because it's now gone forever, at least here in Atlanta.

Ron Day is a graduate student at the Andrew Young School of Public Housing at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at

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