Atlanta adopts new housing model

By Robbie Brown
New York Times / June 21, 2009
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ATLANTA - In 1936, Atlanta built Techwood Homes, the nation’s first housing project. By the 1990s, a greater percentage of the city’s residents were living in housing projects - sprawling red-brick barracks - than in any other city in America.

Now, Atlanta is nearing a very different record: becoming the first major city to knock them all down. By next June, officials here plan to demolish the city’s last remaining housing project, fulfilling a long and divisive campaign to reduce poverty by decentralizing it.

“We’ve realized that concentrating families in poverty is very destructive,’’ said Renee L. Glover, the executive director of the Atlanta Housing Authority. “It’s destructive to the families, the neighborhoods, and the city.’’

The elimination of housing projects does not mean the abandonment of public housing. The Atlanta Housing Authority pays for housing that is scattered throughout the city in mixed-income communities.

Still, critics of the demolitions worry about the toll on residents, who must qualify for vouchers, struggle to find affordable housing, and often move to only slightly less impoverished neighborhoods.

Some researchers and policymakers say the model is succeeding. Thomas D. Boston, an economist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has tracked Atlanta’s housing-project residents since 1995, said those who move are more likely to find work, their children were likely to perform better in school, and they report higher satisfaction with their living conditions.