Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Peoplestown Residents Send Clear Message, "We will not be Moved!"

On Monday, Nov. 21st, residents of Peoplestown and Housing Justice League members marched to the Atlanta City Hall to testify in front of City Council members who voted to authorize eminent domain proceedings against Mrs. and Mr. Darden and Tanya Washington. Protestors brought “Thanks-taking” themed posters plastered with the face of Mayor Kasim Reed, highlighting Reed’s gentrifying tendencies and impassivity in meeting with residents. The contingent group outside City Hall was only a small part of the 6,000+ signatories who signed a petition supporting Tanya and the Dardens’ resistance to displacement.

Tensions came to a head in City Council, where individuals on both sides of the displacement issue spoke their opinions. Peoplestown residents who supported building the park, and thus the displacement of Tanya and the Dardens, reiterated their concern for flooding in the neighborhood and beliefs that park construction would subside flooding. They cited conversations with engineers and watershed department officials who suggested the park construction was a useful response to the flooding. Indeed, many of these residents were well-dressed white professionals.

Following their narratives, Tanya Washington spoke. Many of her supporters yielded their speaking time, giving Tanya 16 minutes at the podium. Articulate, visceral, and honest, Tanya spoke about the timeline of park construction within the neighborhood and her commitment to staying in her home. Tanya highlighted that the current park construction plan was not the best plan possible. Initial drafts of park construction placed it close to the Turner Field stadium, away from the 100 block of Atlanta Avenue. She noted the City wished to advance this park plan because they had already displaced most residents on the block. “But going forward with a wrong displacement project doesn’t make it right,” Tanya noted.

The city’s legal takeover of the block is un-coincidentally occurring with the sale of Turner Field, Tanya noted, and hints at a larger project of making over the Peoplestown neighborhood. This may not be problematic, except that it is happening at the expense of long-time black homeowners and for the benefit of wealthier white homeowners. The force of gentrification is heavily suggested by the fact that most of the pro-park advocates in City Hall were white, and at least in their immediate dress, white-collared, while the displaced residents have been older, black, and medium to low income. The City’s legal takeover of the Peoplestown block is a dangerous precedent in Atlanta, where resident-displacements in other neighborhoods, such as Vine City, are foreseeable and looming.    

Park development without displacement in Peoplestown is not only possible, but has been recommended. At the beginning of the building process, the Department of Watershed had nearly twenty-two site options to choose from when deciding a location. Building on some of these site locations would not have required resident-displacement at all. Nonetheless, the City advanced with building on the 100 Atlanta Avenue block, more or less evicting the majority of its residents. Even now, in the final stages of the block takeover, displacement need not continue. Housing Justice organizer Tim Franzen noted that developers already plan to build around resident Mattie Jackson’s home, which sits in the middle of the block. If this is possible, Franzen noted, it is also possible to build around the block-corner homes of the Dardens and Tanya Washington. Even amidst the City’s relentless displacements and subsequent public defacing, it is possible for the City to maintain dignity—by not displacing the Dardens and Tanya. 

After the public testimonies, residents and Housing Justice members walked to Mayor Kasim Reed’s office in an attempt to meet with the Mayor and request his intervention in the eminent domain proceedings. His office doors were locked, however, even though Reed was visibly present in the mayor’s room. For half-an-hour, Housing Justice remained outside the office calling for the Mayor. But the Mayor’s Office denied communication, and Kasim Reed did not speak with residents.

The eminent domain proceedings will be taken to court in the coming weeks, and Tanya Washington has promised a strong resistance. “These displacements are being fueled by a project of economic development rather than public safety,” she noted, “and will likely benefit private developers among others. Somebody is receiving large sums of money from this process, and it’s not the residents.” As Peoplestown residents continue fighting against displacement, the Housing Justice League remains relentlessly by their side. Testimonies and actions will continue as long as necessary to keep the Dardens and Tanya Washington in their homes.  


Friday, November 18, 2016

Peoplestown Residents Stand Up to Mayor Reed's Use of Eminent Domain

On Thursday, Nov. 17th, a group of Peoplestown residents and the Housing Justice League rallied together at the house of resident Tanya Washington, bringing attention to the eminent domain proceedings brought against Washington and her neighbors. In front of reporters and cameras from various television stations, Washington led the charge in explaining the issue at hand.

The city of Atlanta is using “eminent domain” as a legal maneuver to redevelop a block in Peoplestown. The City cites street flooding as a primary reason for neighborhood redevelopment-- but it is simply a rouse. In the areas of Peoplestown hit hardest by flooding, notably the Turner Field stadium parking lots, the City has chosen to NOT redevelop. Early drafts by engineering consultants suggested a park and pond be built besides the stadium and AWAY from the neighborhoods. But, the City has avoided this, and chosen instead to forcefully displace Peoplestown residents so they may build atop their homes.

Commenting on this situation, Washington noted, “We have lawyered up, and are ready to take on the City. If the city wins this fight, they can set a dangerous precedent of taking over neighborhoods via eminent domain. It’s important that we win this legal battle and show that neighborhoods can defend themselves. We have a good legal and advocacy team, so I am confident in our abilities. Get ready.”
Alongside Washington, residents and allies held signs that read “Stop displacement,” “Mayor Reed, do the right thing,” and “Our homes are not for sale.” The rally echoed actions in the past, when housing justice members called Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to prioritize neighborhood residents over profit, and not displace people in the name of city beautification. Actions in this campaign once again will be directed towards City Hall and the Mayor’s Office, urging for policy that creates an Atlanta for all.

Longtime Peoplestown resident Mrs. Darden was perhaps the rally’s energy source. With a loud and resonating voice, she led the group in civil-rights era chants and declarations. Gathering the crowd together and pushing their spirits forward, Mrs. Darden (and her husband Mr. Darden) represent the best of the Peoplestown neighborhood, and who exactly is at stake in this fight against displacement. Despite the enormity of the task ahead, Mrs. Darden spoke with only strength and certainty. “We will stay in our homes,” she said repeatedly. “And we will not be moved.”

Action continue on Monday, Nov. 21st. Residents and housing justice members will testify and protest against councilmembers who voted to put residents outside their homes-- including Councilperson Carla Smith who introduced the ordinance authorizing eminent domain in Peoplestown. This will be followed by a sit-in at the Mayor’s office to demand that he stop litigation and use his executive authority to keep residents in their homes. The Housing Justice League invites supporters to attend these events, and get out the word to friends, family and colleagues, in person, through phone, and via social media.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Residents Call Out Beltline's Affordable Housing Failures

The Atlanta Beltline, which oversees the development of a 22-mile loop through the city, says that it hopes to raise $7.5 million to encourage affordable housing development. But the recent announcement of $7.5 million from TAD bonds will likely support fewer than 200 affordable units out of ABI’s obligation to 5,600. When compared to the need, current funding is a drop in the bucket. As the economy comes back to life, and the city accelerates, meeting these obligations is increasingly urgent. It is clear the city of Atlanta has made little effort to hold Beltline developers accountable.

On Thursday, Nov. 3rd at 4 pm, the Housing Justice League held the Beltline accountable. We organized a protest outside the Equitable Building on 100 Peachtree Street, home to the Atlanta Beltline Office, drawing public attention and criticism to Beltline President Paul Morris. The protest began with Housing Justice League organizer, and Stanton Oak tenant association president, Sherise Brown delivering a notification flyer to Paul Morris’s office. The flyer called attention to the lack of affordable housing on the Atlanta Beltline, and committed to hold Paul Morris and the entire Beltline Corporation accountable to their promise of 5,600 affordable units. Over the course of the next half-an-hour, protestors marched around the Building, registering their discontent with Paul Morris and the Beltline Corporation. Many of the protestors included university faculty, who were part of a Georgia State University-based conference on the housing crisis in Atlanta.

The Housing Justice League is committed to keeping pressure on Paul Morris and his partner developers to build affordable housing on the Beltline. Up to this point, Beltline developers have built exclusively luxury housing units, creating a period of unbridled wealth extraction from communities that have only recently begun strong economic development. It is unacceptable for the Beltline to develop without accountability, and without profiting its surrounding neighborhoods. We demand that the Beltline be a project that benefits not just some, but all.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Atlanta Residents and GSU Students Demand Input in the Turner Field purchase

On noon, Tuesday, October 4th at Hurt Park, GSU students and NPU-V residents joined the Housing Justice League to deliver a petition to GSU President Mark Becker’s office. The direct action was geared towards securing a legally-binding Community-Benefits Agreement (CBA) that ensures residents of Turner Field neighborhoods benefit from positive development around their homes.

The rally began in a sunlit Hurt Park at noon, with joint cadres of Georgia State University students and NPU-V residents. Many held signs that read, “Stop displacement on our dime,” “Students and residents march together,” and “Gentrification State University.” Half-past the hour, student organizer Patricio Cambias Rojas rallied students and gave an overview of the action. Co-organizer Christopher Hollis took lead in giving chants, and marching students and residents towards Becker’s office.

Students and Residence deliver petition to President Becker

In the building of Centennial Hall, marchers learned that President Becker was “out” for the day-- his absence has not been confirmed by independent sources-- and that they would not be allowed into his office. Housing Justice League organizer Sherise Brown and GSU organizer Asma Elhuni delivered a petition to Becker’s secretary in lieu of Becker, and restated the demand that Becker meet with marchers to discuss a CBA clause within GSU’s purchase package. Brown noted, “We are following up on our last march to your office, and we wish to meet with President Becker. Please let him know that we are sincere, and want to discuss the mutual benefits of a CBA.” As of now, Becker’s office has given no response.

Students and residents initiated a sit-in during which many shared personal stories, ranging from oral histories of the Turner Field neighborhoods to student activism at GSU. Longtime resident May Helen Johnson recounted how Turner Field neighborhoods have long fell victim to the economic priorities of others. “Churches have been demolished in place of contaminated housing units, and empty parking lots have replaced long-time houses.”  Johnson, along with other residents, expressed hope that the combined efforts of students and residents would impress urgency behind the call for a CBA. This new wave of action, Johnson noted, “can bring positive development back to an area once filled with it.”   
Students and residents hold a sit-in

The Turner Field Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) is a valuable opportunity to reorganize administrative priorities and change the neglect of Turner Field. This legally-binding agreement has driven by local residents and the over 40 community organizations that make up the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition.

A CBA would mean tremendous change for all involved in the Turner Field neighborhoods. A well implemented CBA could alleviate flooding, improve transportation, provide jobs for residents, and include educational training for people of all ages. It could prevent displacement of existing residents, create housing for people of all incomes, provide the neighborhood with places to shop, and make streets and communities safer and cleaner.
Long term residents hold a banner iutside President Beckers office

The Housing Justice League, NPU-V residents, and GSU students are committed to demonstrating the power of a Community Benefits Agreement for our communities. On Tuesday, October 4th, we showed this commitment by rallying to Mark Becker’s office and delivering our petition. And we will continue pushing, and escalating, to create a more affordable, better serviced Atlanta.

Please SIGN and SHARE the online petition.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Atlanta Residents March on Fulton County, Challenge Cruel Eviction Process

Residents Take to the streets
 Yesterday members of the Housing Justice League took the streets of downtown Atlanta and Marched to the Fulton County Courthouse and the County Commissioners office. The march will be led by Atlanta residents who have experienced or in the process of experiencing the eviction in Fulton County.

Residents Sopke about their experience with eviction process

Carver Highschool Band helped keep the spirits up
Atlanta has been declared to be in a renter’s state of emergency. Right now in Fulton County the number of evictions has dramatically spiked to 500 a week! Many of those evictions are as a result of arbitrary rent increases that often come with no changes in tenant amenities. The eviction process in Fulton County is not only cruel, its decades behind the rest of the country. During eviction court in Fulton, which happens twice a week, Judges sign off on an average of one eviction per minute. A whole sickening economy has developed around the eviction process in our county with over ten 3rd party eviction corporations thriving off the crisis.
We call on the Fulton County Commission to take immediate action to change the eviction process in Fulton County. The following recommendations are working in other parts of the country, they are not revolutionary proposals but they would make the eviction process more humane and less difficult to bounce back for tenants in hardship. These changes are but a step in the right direction.
Residents Hold Space Outside Fulton County Courthouse

1.       Scheduled Evictions

Many counties and states around the country schedule evictions. We already know that evictors have to schedule eviction with moving companies, why not schedule evictions with the resident. As things stand now residents are subject to a knock on the door at any hour. Scheduled evictions allow residents the final reminder of the coming crisis at hand and gives them a last chance to secure their own belongings.

2.       No evictions after hours

After hours evictions can leave families with nowhere to go, no truck to rent, no storage facility to move things into. We know after hours evictions have been facilitated in DeKalb County. This is a cruel practice that no family should be subjected to. We ask that you commit to making evictions outside the hours of 9am-4pm against DeKalb County policy

3.       No evictions during extreme weather

Going through the evictions process means immediate homelessness for some, it also means all of your life belongings are put out on the street in the elements. Many counties will not do evictions in freezing, raining, or 100 degree weather.

4.       Costs paid by the evictor or a cap of public spending

Evictions can bring an enormous cost the county. The banks and private equity groups that do most of the evicting make an enormous profit. In many counties the evictor pays for the process, in some cases counties put a cap on what they will pay for.

5.       Relocation and 30 days storage for belongings

One of the most dehumanizing parts of the eviction process is having your things dumped in the front yard. Not only are families immediately faced with the prospect of having nowhere to go, they also have to protect their belongings. Furthermore this process is bad for the whole community, effecting the financial and spiritual value of the neighborhood. Many counties, and some states, require the evictor to pay property to be moved to a storage facility for at 30 days.

6.       Handle belongings with care

Often times peoples belongings are destroyed or stolen during the eviction process. We hope that as Sheriff you are able to facilitate stringer accountability for your constituent’s belongings during the eviction process.

7.       Referrals for housing services

Many facing evictions have now where to go. As a point of policy it would be fairly simple to provide those being evicted with a comprehensive list of service providers in the area. Often time’s people are given assistance finding temporary shelter for their animal but no assistance finding temporary shelter for themselves, this should change immediately.
Residents posted "Final Notice" with demands on the Fulton County Government Building and the County Courthouse