The Atlanta Housing Authority or AHA is organized under Georgia law to develop, acquire, lease and operate affordable housing for low-income families. Today, AHA is the largest housing agency in Georgia and one of the largest in the United States, serving approximately 50,000 people.
All of the old-style public housing projects were demolished by 2011. AHA now has six primary ways of helping people with housing needs: In 2011, the AHA served 21,267 households, of which:9,907 were provided with housing vouchers (replacement for the old Section 8 system)
4,581 were housed in AHA-sponsored MICs
4,537 in AHA-PBRA "mixed income developments"
more than 3,000 market-rate rentals and houses were offered
1,953 lived in one of the nine senior citizen high rises or two other small properties that it owns
289 were assisted with home ownership
The history of the AHA goes back to Charles Forrest Palmer (1892–1973), an Atlanta real estate developer. Palmer became an expert on techniques to improve housing for the poor and public housing, including approaches and implementations in Europe at the time. This was in an era when most poor people in Atlanta lived in dilapidated houses or shanties without indoor plumbing or electricity - such conditions would persist in some parts of Atlanta, such as Buttermilk Bottom, until the 1960s.
Palmer organized the building of Techwood Homes, the first public housing project in the United States. Palmer met Judge John S. Candler, brother to Coca-Cola owner Asa Griggs Candler, who in 1920 persuaded Palmer to move to Atlanta to exploit the commercial investment opportunities there. Palmer opened a real estate firm there, Palmer. Inc., specializing in downtown office properties. In his memoirs he stated that his initial idea to improve slums (which were nearby Downtown Atlanta) was to increase the value of his downtown properties.
In 1933, he organized the Techwood Homes project, one of the first efforts at slum clearance in the United States by the Public Works Administration. He also helped developed its sister project, University Homes, built for blacks (Techwood was for whites only). In 1938, Palmer served as President of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and also organized the new Atlanta Housing Authority, of which he served as the first Chairman, until 1940.
By 1940 six additional developments (all segregated; some white, some black) had opened, 4,000 housing units in total accommodating 20,000 people. The total investment was $21 million to that point. City historian Franklin Garrett remarked humorously, "By 1940, federal funds have built considerably more housing in Atlanta than Federal representative William T. Sherman destroyed here in 1864", referring to the Union general who ordered the burning of Atlanta.
By 1956, 516.8 acres (209.1 ha) of slums had been cleared and replaced by public housing; there were 12 projects in total housing a total of 27,000 people (not including Techwood). However, highway construction, combined with urban renewal would displace almost 67,000 - mostly black - people in the period from 1956 to 1966. Only 11% of those displaced would be rehoused in public housing.
The thirteenth project opened in 1956, Joel Chandler Harris Homes (for whites), built at a cost of $7.6 million. The AHA announced it to be its "last low-rent project", as it was redirecting its efforts to urban redevelopment, which was to replace public housing, a goal which would be fully realized in 2011, when the last public housing was demolished.
The projects were some of the last public facilities to be desegregated; this occurred only in 1968. Whites had been leaving the projects and the city already, but integration prompted virtually all remaining whites to leave the projects after the 1968 action.
Other projects continued to be built into the 1970s, as well as several high-rises for senior citizens.
By the 1990s, the AHA was corrupt and inefficient, with its projects badly lacking maintenance, so much so that public housing section of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development named the AHA one of the worst housing authorities in the nation.
In 1996, AHA created the financial and legal model for mixed-income communities or MICs, that is, communities with both owners and renters of differing income levels, that include public-assisted housing as a component. This model is used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOPE VI revitalization program. As of 2011, it has resulted in all housing projects having been demolished, with partial replacement by MICs.
The first of these, Centennial Place, has been recognized by HUD and the Urban Land Institute. As of 2007, Centennial Place had a math, science and technology-focused elementary school, a YMCA, a branch bank, a child-care facility and retail shops. There were plans to include homeownership units.
In 2011, the agency also tore down the Roosevelt House and Palmer House senior-citizen high-rises and relocated residents into other properties. However, the John O. Chiles and Cosby Spear senior citizen high rises remained open.
AHA took advantage of relaxed federal rules in effect through 2010 to raze all remaining communities. The agency offered residents who qualified a variety of relocation options and long-term assistance that included federal rent-assistance vouchers good anywhere in the country. However, not all residents qualified for the vouchers.
As AHA began to systematically close and demolish the projects, a number of issues arose.
In 2004, AHA required all adults without diagnosed disabilities between 18 and 61 to be employed or successfully participating in job training or some other educational assistance. By 2007, nearly all able-bodied adults living in the remaining housing projects were compliant.
In 2008, residents of Bowen Homes and others expressed concern that AHA was not finding homes for their relocation prior to demolition of the 3,000 families living in the complex. According to research done the conversion to vouchers was concentrating the displaced residents by race and income in violation of the Fair Housing Act, prompting a filing of a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD was charged with approving the applications for demolitions.
In 2011 the last public housing project, Bowen Homes was fully razed and Atlanta became the first major American city to completely do away with its public housing projects.
In 2016 it was found that Atlanta Housing Authority’s publicly paid executives evaded federal rules capping pay at $158,700 by supplementing their salaries with money from the nonprofit National Housing Compliance, which receives money from a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to administer low-income housing.
See Atlanta mixed-income communities and Demolished public housing projects in Atlanta