Razing the Projects: When Housing Isn’t Home

Ernie Suggs, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 17, 2007

When Deirdre Jones-Jackson packs her last box and moves her family from the Jonesboro South public housing complex into their own house, she promises not to look back. That might not be a problem.

She and her family are trading in their cramped apartment in the heart of a concrete campus of one- and two-story “projects” for a tree-lined single-family home in one of Atlanta’s best neighborhoods, the Cascades.

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Rather than concentrating low-income people in specified areas and housing, the agency is giving displaced families Section 8 vouchers, which pay a portion of rent for a private apartment or house the family finds on its own. In addition to the Jacksons, more than 700 families are moving out of the soon-to-close complexes of Jonesboro South, Jonesboro North, Leila Valley, U-Rescue Villa and Englewood Manor.

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There is an ongoing joke in the sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,” about how the main family is one of only four nuclear families in the crime- and crack-infested Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn with a working mother and father in the house.

For years, Atlanta public housing has carried that same stereotype—as a place mostly inhabited by single women, with few stable men in sight. In fact, there are only 139 married couples in AHA’s affordable communities.

One of those being the Jacksons.

Father, Daniel, is a truck driver.

Mother, Deirdre, drives for an after-school program.

Daughters, Danielle and Angela, are both honor roll students at Washington High School with dreams of college.

“I might be the only family out here with a husband. We are seeing our kids grow up as a family,” Deirdre Jones-Jackson said. “For the six years we have been here, I have not seen another couple. I see a boyfriend one minute and they are gone the next.”

So when the Jacksons were looking for a new home, they noticed something—other families.

“The place we found is a single-family house in a very quiet neighborhood. My husband and daughters were shocked at how different it was. It was a mixed community. It was not loud, obnoxious and ghetto. Families sit on their porch and say hello to us.”

In other words, it’s normal. In Jonesboro South, the Jacksons stood out.

“We are a little different,” Jones-Jackson said. “For one, we mind our business. We go to work and come home and don’t bother anyone. My kids don’t even go outside much. That is the way they look at us—as different.”

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In the Leila Valley complex, five-year resident Jeral Clyde has noticed something as people have begun to move out: There are fewer fights.

“People are moving out, so the fights have slowed down a little bit,” Clyde said.

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