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The chosen few

For some project residents, persistence finally pays off

Four months ago, the people still living in a half-demolished housing project called Carver Homes were wondering if they, like hundreds before them, would join the exodus.

Carver is being rebuilt as a "mixed-income" community, and the families still there weren't sure they'd fit in to the city's new vision for public housing. After all, the newly-named Villages at Carver would have only 287 units for public housing residents, 700 fewer than Carver Homes had at full occupancy.

Last Friday, though, the Atlanta Housing Authority promised the remaining 84 families at Carver — mostly black and elderly — there would be room for them in the first set of new buildings.

Authority member Dwayne Vaughn said that because there was so much protest on the part of longtime Carver residents, the Authority has decided to let them stay. "We heard you, loud and clear," Vaughn said.

The Authority, however, did not hear the protests of families who could not stay at Carver because of blemishes on credit and criminal histories. Nor did the Authority answer the pleas of hundreds of residents who moved off-site but wrote their names on a waiting list for new apartments in the Villages at Carver.

Louise Watley, president of Carver's neighborhood association, said she's pleased with most of the Authority's current plan but remains skeptical of its long-term promises.

In 1997, the Authority publicized its intent to demolish and reconstruct the 100-acre Carver Homes complex. Today, more than half of the buildings are gone and many of the rest are gutted. Construction of the first 218 apartments is nearly complete. Future construction of 500 more apartments is scheduled over the next three years.

For families who rely on public housing, the Authority set aside just 57 apartments in the first wave of construction. The Authority planned to rent the other 161 units to people who pay full or slightly reduced rent, around $800 to $1,500 per month.

But 84 families were living in the buildings that had to be razed to make room for the third wave of construction. So the Authority announced last week that it agreed to allot not 57 but 84 total apartments for public housing families, making the new complex a little less "mixed-income" than originally planned.

"I think we're having to make some compromises," Renee Lewis Glover, head of the Authority, said at the meeting. "But particularly out of concern for the elderly, we wanted to figure out a way ... to do this."

Had all 389 families on the waiting list been granted the same privilege, then the entire first wave of construction and half of the second would be set aside solely for public housing residents. For the Authority, that wasn't mixed-income enough.

Many of the families who left Carver opted to use a city-issued voucher for reduced rent from private landlords. While those who remain are mostly older, many of those who left are young and poor, with an income of less than $19,000. They got tired of waiting.

It seems the fatigue was part of the Authority's plan.

Vaughn said at a meeting four months ago that many of the former families living off-site will likely change their minds and decide they don't want to return to Carver. That would allow those who remained to stay on site and move into a new apartment.

Carver is not the first to undergo such a drastic change in demographics. East Lake Meadows, one of the most crime-infested projects in the city, once had 650 families living there. After revitalization was complete and crime plummeted, the headcount of original East Lake families in the new complex was 60.

All told, 4,500 units in seven Atlanta public housing complexes have been or will be torn down. They will be replaced with fewer than 4,000 units. About 1,732 will be set aside for the original families that rely on public housing.

Back at Carver Homes, three miles south of the conference room in City Hall, Dorothy Jordan was unaware of the meeting that had just ended. She was surveying the manicured garden her neighbor maintained outside a row of apartments on Meldon Avenue.

Jordan, who turned 73 that day, has lived 28 years in Carver. Looking at the construction site up the hill from her home, she described the move from an impoverished neighborhood to a mixed-income one as forcible integration — not between black and white but between poor and affluent.

"I'd rather just stay where I'm at."??