A study of the Atlanta Housing Authority’s shift away from traditional public housing assistance finds that most relocated residents remain in neighborhoods with elevated poverty levels. The study, completed by the Georgia State University Urban Health Initiative, surveyed over 300 former public housing residents six months to a year after they were relocated to private market housing as part of Atlanta’s public housing transformation initiative. While the majority of relocated residents (70%) reported moving to their “first choice” home, the neighborhoods where residents moved had only marginally lower poverty levels than the neighborhood surrounding their former public housing unit.
According to an analysis of geographic data, the study found that the demolition of public housing units did not lead to an even dispersal of former public housing residents across the region. Residents moved to just 88 census tracts out of a possible 660 in the Atlanta metropolitan region. Most residents remained within Atlanta city limits, with only 10% moving outside of the city. Survey respondents cited choosing familiar neighborhoods, and many indicated that their reliance on public transportation was a key determinant in their housing search.
Most survey respondents did not move to racially integrated communities. Their new neighborhoods remained predominantly African American. In addition, survey respondents relocated to census tracts with an average poverty rate of 30%, significantly higher than the city-wide poverty rate of 21%. This finding suggests that the Atlanta public housing transformation did not accomplish the goal of moving residents away from high poverty neighborhoods.
Residents did, however, relocate to census tracts with lower crime rates. Families reported much lower levels of fear of crime. While 82% of family households indicated that their former neighborhood had too much crime, only 25% expressed a similar sentiment post-relocation.
Most residents also reported that their new home, post-relocation, was in much better condition than their former public housing unit. Reported pests fell by 30% and complaints about malfunctioning furnaces fell from 40% to 9%. A much higher percentage of family households expressed overall satisfaction with their neighborhood post-relocation (73%).
While survey respondents did not encounter significant private sector barriers to choice when selecting their new homes, the authors of the study suggest that this finding may be unique to Atlanta due to the generous supply of rental housing in the region. The long-term impact of transitioning to voucher use is unclear. Over time, landlords may opt out of leasing to voucher-holders, thus creating more instability among housing assistance recipients. Finally, the Atlanta study notes that some residents were unable to qualify for or otherwise obtain a housing voucher, and these households have likely fared much worse.
The report, Is the Grass Always Greener? Destination Characteristics and Public Housing Residents’ Views Six Months after Relocation, is available on the Georgia State University’s Urban Health Initiative webpage: http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwsoc/Files/SOC/RESEARCH_public_housing_sixmonthpost.pdf