Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pushed to the Margins

Posted by Chandra Ward – ATLANTA, GA --Where do people go when affordable housing leaves?  This is one of the two questions I pondered that inspired this post.  The second question is can people who lived under bridges prior to massive redevelopment which brings with it hip restaurants, expensive condos, lofts etc. still live there without “scaring off” the new ‘upscale’ and ‘cool’ clientele these transformations target? 

 Atlanta has been at the epicenter of the affordable housing debate the Atlanta Housing Authority's (AHA) has eliminated all of its traditional public housing.  As a result many low income families have moved to private market rental housing with the help of a Housing Choice Voucher.  Yet, many more remain on long waiting lists because there’s just not enough affordable housing to meet the demand.  This is what I was told by the leasing agent of the family housing development where I live. According to her, the Villages at East Lake are trying to find places for about 1500 qualified low income households.   She recalled an experience which I could tell caused her some pain.  A unit has finally open and she called gentlemen next on the wait list. Unfortunately, the wait had been too long -- his daughter told the leasing agent that he had passed away.  What do people do while waiting five years for affordable housing? Some die. Others just struggle to get by on their meager non-living wage jobs. And some end up on the streets, in temporary shelters, or building camps under bridges.

 Over the past few years, I have seen the development of exciting places in Atlanta – the Belt Line, the tracks for the street car that will run through town and along the Belt Line.  When I first began writing for Social Shutter I was living in an upscale live/work/play development situated across from a bridge separated by the Belt Line   Back then it was only a dirt path, and people used a bridge there for their home. 

Now the Belt Line is becoming impressive with bike paths and commissioned murals.  On recent walk I went underneath the Freedom Parkway Bridge at Highland Avenue and there was no sign of human occupation.  With police on the path, and the many pedestrians who walk, bike, run and admire the art, my guess is that anyone living under that bridge would be asked to leave. I then went downtown near Auburn Avenue where the rail line is being constructed to find out if residents living underneath bridges in that area were still around.  At the time, they were.  I took pictures, with a bit of caution, as I felt uncomfortable taking pictures of people living in dire straits.

 There is a bridge at Bell Street, only blocks away from Grady Hospital and Georgia State University, which is home to about 15 homeless individuals according one gentleman I met named Rick. Rick is a former Marine who has been living under the bridge for about a month. He pointed to a guy who was sweeping his area of the bridge who is apparently a truck driver.  Rick says he ended coming to the bridge after leaving a bad relationship. When I asked him about affordable housing in Atlanta, he said “there isn't any.”  Rick referred to Atlanta as a convention city who is concerned about its tourist image.  He believes that Mayor Kasim Reed does not care about homeless people, though he feels that many Atlantans do.  I asked him about his attempts at finding housing.  He said low-income places have long wait lists or won't take him because he is able-bodied but unable to find work and, simply not old enough for some of the affordable developments where you have to be at least 62 years of age.  I asked if he believed the people living here would be asked to leave once the infrastructural projects taken place were complete.  He did not believe so.  Rick is hoping to get a place in Oakland City for $300 a month soon. I hope his is right and I wish him the best of luck.

 Chandra Ward is the Managing Editor of Social Shutter, a Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University, and a Lecturer at Kennesaw State University. She can be reached at chandradward@gmail.com.

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