Friday, July 09, 2010

The "Least Of These" Must Be Moved Beyond The "Cared For" Status In Order To Become The "UN-Least Of These"

This is a real e-mail exchange between myself and a good friend of mine who is proving to be far more liberal and quasi-socialist than I have previously figured him to be.  I am not making an indictment against this disposition.  Instead it is far more important for me to properly frame his viewpoints against the real world challenges that these people face and then apply known concepts of human behavior, culture and general management practices.  At the end both he and I must be forced to ask:

What is the desired END STATE for the people in question?  Do your policies adequately serve as a waypoint signal to guide them toward this end?

Here is the opening salvo from my friend which made me aware of the article in the paper from the official from the Atlanta Housing Authority.

My Friend's Message

I thought maybe you could get something out of this since you claim that black leaders never do anything for our poorer communities. You all should skim through the study done by the economics professor at Tech. I found it pretty enlightening. I always believed that the ghetto is the reason poor blacks can't get ahead and we have too high of a percentage of our people living in them. After civil rights, we were pretty much told to go and fend for yourselves - without proper education on how to better ourselves. It is interesting to see how a change in living conditions can make someone's world so much better. It isn't a matter of being lazy (as most black kids are portrayed). But when you grow up in a crime and drug infested neighborhood, it is proven that your odds of getting out of that life are slim.

On another note, I guess the now defunct school systems in most Georgia counties (white and black) proves the point that politicians and local leaders lack of care for education cross racial barriers and their spending/budgets reflect bad decisions no matter what side of town you live on.

Here Is The Article That He Is Referring To:

The truth about AHA: Making a Better Community and Strengthening Families

By Barney Simms

Utter dismay.

That was my reaction when I read an article recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ("DeKalb Resists Unwelcome Image," May 30, 2010) that quoted someone I respect who was lambasting the Atlanta Housing Authority. Steen Miles, a former TV reporter and state senator, told the AJC that many suburban counties' problems with crime, schools and falling property values are due to low-income blacks moving into the community. "The people dumped from the Atlanta housing projects went to Clayton and DeKalb counties," Miles stated.

Checking further, I found that Miles had written in a DeKalb newspaper, The Champion Free Press ("The downward spiral," April 9, 2010): "Many of the Atlanta transplants [to DeKalb] are former residents of the housing projects. … [M]ost of these low-income families have not had adequate counseling on how to adjust to living in single family homes. … Without serious counseling, how does one adjust from living in cramped, crime and drug-infested apartment complexes to being 'integrated' into middle class neighborhoods?"

Miles is wrong, very wrong on all points. But the fault isn't hers. It's mine, as the person responsible for explaining AHA's work to the community.

AHA is in the midst of completing a historic transition. In the mid-1990s, Atlanta was pockmarked with more than 40 housing projects, and had the highest percentage of people living in public housing of any major U.S. city. Of the 15,000 housing units, fully one-third weren't fit for human habitation and the rest were only marginally better. Residents had been condemned to never-ending concentrated poverty. They were prey to criminals and victims of isolation from the mainstream community. The schools their children attended were among the very worst in the state. Residents faced lives devoid of jobs and economic opportunity.

In 1994, when Renee Glover became CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority, we set out to change that. This year, the last of the big housing projects will be demolished. We have ample proof from academic studies and from our own experience that families when integrated into the mainstream – either by living in the mixed-income communities that have replaced the projects or in housing-voucher assisted homes of their choice – become mainstream. Their employment statistics mirror those of society at large. Their children attend schools where success is instilled. They no longer are the most vulnerable victims of criminals.

Not all poverty has been eliminated in Atlanta, but AHA has replaced the worst pockets of despair and impoverishment with healthy neighborhoods. Crime rates have fallen dramatically, property values in once-depressed areas have risen, and for the first time in decades, citizens of all races and income groups are clamoring to move into the city. As the projects, which were exempt from property taxes, were replaced with taxable mixed-income housing, the city's tax base was significantly augmented, a financial boon to the city's homeowners and businesses.

AHA deserves credit for its strategic intervention in ending poverty and for much of the civic regeneration that has followed. Yet, misperceptions remain. Chief among those are ones Steen Miles asserted, plus one other, that in demolishing the projects AHA has contributed to homelessness in Atlanta.

Here is the truth about AHA's work:

Does AHA serve fewer families now that the projects are gone? Absolutely not. About 6,000 more families receive housing assistance today than at the peak of the projects.

Have the suburbs been inundated with former residents of Atlanta housing projects? Absolutely not. Families who receive Section 8 assistance living outside Atlanta is nothing new. Today 2,968 families live in 87 zip codes across the state – but since 2004, the year we announced all the large family housing projects would be razed, only 369 families have relocated outside of the City of Atlanta. If every one of those families had relocated to DeKalb, as Steen Miles implied, they would have had no measurable impact on the demographics and certainly couldn't have caused the problems she described. The former housing project residents, by an overwhelming majority, now pursue productive lives and are indistinguishable from most working families. All of the families are required to comply with their terms of their lease and the rules of the program or else they will lose their eligibility to receive the housing subsidy – and some do.

If not from AHA then, from where is the suburban poverty coming? Some counties, such as Clayton, have encouraged vast building of rental housing (the ratio of rental to ownership is staggering), attracting transient and low-income residents from, for example, the Hurricane Katrina exodus. It was reported that thousands of families relocated from the Gulf Region to metro Atlanta. In total, fewer than 60 of those families received housing assistance from AHA (suggesting the balance moved to other, presumably suburban, communities where the rents were affordable like Clayton and DeKalb counties).

In fact, according to a Brookings Institute report issued this year, the Atlanta metro area has the highest percentage of its poor living in suburbs of any major urban region – about 84.5 percent of the region's low income families live outside the core city. That's about 900,000 people, of which former Atlanta housing project residents constitute, at most, a negligible one-tenth of one percent. Suburban poverty has many causes, but AHA isn't one of them.

Are former housing project residents "dumped" into the community without preparation? Absolutely not. AHA in the last decade has invested $26.7 million in coaching families to move smoothly into the mainstream. That program engages families for at least 27 months. AHA also has implemented other programs, such as one called Good Neighbor, that is administered through Georgia State University, to ensure positive outcomes for both families moving from the projects and the neighborhoods into which they move. No other housing authority in the nation makes anywhere near that level of commitment. Former residents of AHA projects are now well-endowed with the tools to be good citizens, workers, students and neighbors.

Don't former project residents move into neighborhoods just as poor as the projects? Not at all. A Zip Code analysis conducted this year showed that on average, former Atlanta housing project residents are now living in neighborhoods 27 percent more affluent than those surrounding public housing. That means better schools, better access to good retailers and grocers, more good jobs nearby and greater proximity to community resources.

In tearing down the housing projects, hasn't AHA contributed to Atlanta's homeless population? Absolutely not. AHA has fostered more quality affordable housing in Atlanta than the city has seen in decades. Moreover, working with the Regional Commission on Homelessness, AHA has entered into long-term rental assistance agreements that support 500 units in concert with a variety of private developers, faith-based groups and non-profit organizations. The goal of this work is to develop various supportive housing communities with services to house the homeless and give them the skills to overcome homelessness. AHA recently increased its rental subsidy to support 200 additional housing units. The group responsible for monitoring homelessness in Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, The Pathways Community Network, found in a recent report that "homeless count numbers from 2003 to 2009 were steady. There was no dramatic change." Pathways also found that a 6.5 percent increase in homeless people during the period was much less than population growth of 17 percent. That stability occurred during the very period when the housing projects were coming down.

No organization is perfect, and no work in building a better community is ever complete. But AHA over the last 16 years has cleaned up a great mess, one rife with social injustice, and we have done so with the mission of improving the lives of children and families while at the same time building a great city.

Barney Simms is chief external affairs officer for the Atlanta Housing Authority.

Here is my reply to my friend;

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I had printed the article out but am just now getting around to responding.

All I can do is capture what ran through my mind as I read the words from the AHA official.

1) As he talked about "Residences Unfit For Human Habitation" I noted that in as much as his agency is proving shelter for human beings and he later talked about the lack of EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES - there is a bit of perversion in this site as neither government administrator nor resident who desired more favorable living conditions ever thought of matching the DESIRE for a better kept residential physical plant with the UNEMPLOYED LABOR that is warehoused in these projects.

I hope you see my point on this . They are looking so hard externally for opportunity for these people that they never saw the opportunity right under their noses that would benefit their interests for improved residences.

2) The government official talked about the CRIME RIDDEN AREAS that these places were which damaged the people living within. He never told us WHO the criminals that were assaulting the people were. You see  - if they were EXTERNAL Klansmen then indeed we can say that there is no complicity of the warehoused masses in the distorted consciousness of the young people which has them attacking each other and those who have the misfortune of being close by people with this consciousness.

3) He rounded off his indictment of the general society by pointing out that these people need to be integrated in with the "mainstream" in order to allow "mainstream values" to reorient them. I think that you and he fail to see the irony of this proclamation. Look at the various religious or cultural movements that were OPPRESSED by the mainstream and chose to venture out on their own to live amongst the religious dogma or societal values that made them unique. The VERACITY of their system of thought  was vetted by their later prosperity or their societal collapse as a group.

In their case the government official is arguing the 180 degree reverse. He is admitting that the collection of thoughts that have been indoctrinated over time within these people make it so that they are a threat to each other IF they are distanced from the mainstream.

Instead of considering the special medicinal values that the "mainstream" has which needs to be distributed to the people in question - you and he should take this as an opportunity to see that this package of consciousness that is event in these people who are isolated should NEVER be allowed to creep into the mainstream. (I said the consciousness creeping not the people).

If we look at the African Pygmy - his isolation today has not imperiled him. But instead he is left to do what he has been doing for thousands of years. This is evidence of the connection of his thoughts and daily productive activity to the real world challenges that they have for survival. Isolation from the mainstream alone should not be looked at as the indictable point. It is the CONSCIOUSNESS of the people in question and how it stands the test of isolation that we should be focusing upon.

My overall view in reading this argument is one thing: What are the competencies that are being developed within this group of people as they live their lives in these conditions that were originally developed as transitional housing?

Either the task is to get them back on their feet and thus the administrators should be bound to a certain program for matriculation outward OR they are merely a warehousing organization where the HOUSING of these people is made as a separate and distinct question about the APPLICATION of their human intelligence in to the upkeep of the physical environment where they live and the management of the consciousness that abounds.

We are dealing with foundational cultural and societal issues here Sam, NOT mere ideological or partisan debates.

I am not interested, as you suggest, in seeing evidence of what "Black Leaders" are DOING in the community. I am far more interested in defining our Permanent Interests and taking measure of where these goals reside and were we stand as a people after decades of trying. The change in the distance over time shows us all what the real question that must be asked: "IS IT WORKING"?

SIDE NOTE: Over the Independence Day weekend I drove the actual streets around the community where that Korean grocer was stabbed to death. Right near Morehouse. This community is a violent community as evidenced by the "telephone pole memorials" - the stuffed bears showing a murder scene. There was a weathered murder scene about a half block away from the stop where the grocer was murdered. I am empathetic to harsh realities of living in a neighborhood that feeds on its young. At the same time I could not help but notice that even the most dilapidated block was full of campaign signs, drawing upon the people to retain their confidence in their representatives.

The best sign of salvation for this community was the fact that several gated apartment complexes were being built. "Black on Black Gentrification" will change the character of the place. Unfortunately I saw more MEXICANS building on these new homes for Blacks than any other group.

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