Section 8 Fiasco In Atlanta Obscures Real Housing Problems

Why are we using 1970's style distribution techniques for anything in 2010?

I was tooling through the black conservative website Booker Rising when I came across a comment by one of its readers that mirrored my thoughts about the thousands of people who stood in line Tuesday in East Point, Georgia, a city located just outside the Atlanta city limits, to get applications for Section 8 housing vouchers.

Let me put aside any indictment of the PEOPLE IN LINE for a second.  While I will hold my ground and mandate that they be respected as "equal human beings" we need to instead focus upon the POLICIES that have brought about this situation, the LOGISTICS by which one central bottle neck was used as the paperwork distribution point and the SECURITY situation.  I can tell you that if everyone in that line is does not get a form - there is going to be a riot.  There were not enough police authorities on site to do crowd control in the event that these people did not get what they have been waiting for.

 If it is true that the people are receiving forms and not filling it out today - WHY didn't the housing authority get the forms printed out last week and set of distribution centers that were disbursed throughout the city?  There was not one single reason to set up this situation to pick up a damned form.

Politics, Policy, Pathology and Hope WITHIN The Black Community

Online publications looked for an easy headline that preyed on the heightened suspicions of a polarized nation. Huffington Post titled their article “Third World America.” The Drudge Report captioned its top of the page photo “Mob Rush For Fed Aid Draws Riot Police.”

The reality is much more complicated.

Atlanta is a city of paradoxes.  It is home to the fastest growing millionaire population in the United States. The city has the largest concentration of black millionaires.  Yet, Atlanta is number three on the list of "Top 101 cities with the most people below 50% of the poverty level, excluding cities with 15% or more of residents in college and with the median age below 28 (population 50,000+)."

Atlanta also has an extremely high child poverty rate at 48.1 percent in 2004, higher than Detroit (47.8 percent), Long Beach (45.8 percent), Miami (41.3 percent), and Milwaukee (41.3 percent).  Black Atlanta families are nearly three times more likely than white Atlanta families to be poor.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20.8 percent of Atlanta’s black families and 7.4 percent of white families fell below the poverty line in 2008.   

A wide gap also exists in black-white earnings. In 2008, the median income for white Atlanta households was $86,156 compared with only $29,033 for the city’s black households. 

The State of Black Atlanta 2010: Greening Up While Cleaning Up for a Healthy and Sustainable Future

A concentration of adjustable rate subprime loans in areas like East Point and College Park, combined with home values that were often aggressively “puffed” to unbelievably high values by appraisers wanting to curry favor with high volume mortgage operations, means many homeowners in these areas are now trapped in properties that may never appreciate to a point where the equity can cover the loan value.      

A quick look through today’s online version of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution shows a more empathetic look at a few metro area families who are suffering from the effects of the economic downturn.

 Stuart Landman is clipping coupons now.

Rick Hawkins, a Riverdale cabinet maker, laid off most of his workers — and sold off nearly all of his vintage cars.

And when John Veal, an IT manager from Cherokee County, lost his job, he cashed out his 401K savings plan to pay bills.

For them and others, living is no longer about success; it’s about survival.

Across metro Atlanta, per capita income shrunk 4.8 percent — down from $38,336 in 2008 to $36,482 to 2009. Per capita income nationally dropped 2.8 percent to $40,757, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Economic free fall leaves Georgians trying to stay on their feet

What the articles on the Section 8 housing applications leave out is the number of vacant homes in the Atlanta area, homes that have been abandoned mostly due to foreclosure that sit empty, waiting to be bundled into mortgage pools and sold for 5 or 10 cents on the dollar to faceless entities funded in part by the very same Wall Street banks that exacerbated the subprime loan problems in the first place.

The same blogger whose comments echoed my own thoughts above must have been reading my mind, because he also touched on that very same point in his comments section:

“…about 3/4ths mile from that very location is the city of Atlanta's "Pittsburgh" section. There is an abundance of empty, foreclosed upon, newly remodeled houses. If the government was going to blow money why not have it purchase up this vacant stock of property and work out some scheme by which these people can live in them.”

Politics, Policy, Pathology and Hope WITHIN The Black Community

Could Atlanta’s new mayor, Kasim Reed, prove to be a visionary and put some of the money the Obama Administration has earmarked for states with higher unemployment rates into devising programs that can purchase the very same inventory of vacant houses for the same 5 to 10 cents on the dollar private industry is paying and make these homes an affordable alternative for struggling Atlanta area residents?

In January, the city learned that its application for an additional $58 million in stabilization funding had been turned down by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The news shouldn't have come as a surprise. A December audit showed that almost none of the money in the first round of NSP grants to rebuild neighborhoods had yet been spent -- a phenomenon that managers of the fund attribute to fierce competition to buy the homes. The city now risks losing any funds uncommitted by September.

While the program may have sounded reasonable to its creators in Washington, it's been difficult to get off the ground in Atlanta. A collection of local nonprofit development groups are expected to use the grant money to buy and rehab foreclosed homes to sell them to low-income families. But bottomed-out home values turned Pittsburgh and surrounding neighborhoods into hotbeds of speculation by out-of-state private-equity groups competing with the grant-holders. Those groups have been willing to pay cash for dozens of properties at a time, sight unseen – and because the grant-holders have to observe strict HUD purchasing guidelines, they don't enjoy a level playing field.

“City of blight”  Creative Loafing 

Whoever you want to blame for letting the fiasco at the East Point Housing Authority get out of hand, the reality remains the same—there is no reason why Americans of any race or creed can't be treated with some dignity in their time of need.

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Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

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