More than 30,000 people gathered August 11th in 95 degree heat in East Point-Atlanta for simply the chance to be placed on the wait-list for Section 8 vouchers — an eye-opener for many regarding the scarcity of affordable housing and the overwhelming need for it in the United States.
30,000 Atlantans sweltered in the summer heat to receive applications for the slim chance of obtaining one of 62 vouchers for subsidized housing. This opening for vouchers marked the first time that Atlanta has handed out applications for subsidized low-income housing since 2002 and occurred only because authorities had just recently finished placing the last waiting list.
People started lining up at 5 a.m., and by 2 that afternoon, temperatures had risen to the mid-90s. Though there were no serious incidents, many people collapsed in the heat. People were carried off on stretchers. Emergency personnel drove up in a pickup truck and handed out bottled water. A baby went into a seizure and was taken to a hospital. Riot police monitored the situation, and while it was generally peaceful, “the massive event sometimes descended into a chaotic mob scene filled with anger and impatience,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote.
Some 15,000 Georgians currently are accommodated with Section 8 housing, with thousands more on waiting lists. Housing openings have been difficult to find anywhere, including rural areas. The AJC wrote, “At the same time the recession has pushed many middle-class families out of their homes, the closure of several large public housing projects during the last decade has left many lower-income families with few housing options as well, elevating vouchers to something akin to lottery winnings.”
The unemployment rate for Fulton County, where East Point-Atlanta is located, hovers at 10.8 percent, while the national average remains stuck at 9.5 percent. Even more disconcerting is that those in the crowd weren’t all unemployed but also working poor.
“There’s more people demanding units at a lower-income level. The demands coming in from people who are losing their jobs and potentially having to leave their homes whether they move all the way to Section 8 or not, it’s going to create demand, ” said Jim Skinner, a planner in the research division of the Atlanta Regional Commission. “That’s just the bottom line and that perhaps explains what happened in East Point.”
On a grander scale, it’s not just an indication of the nation’s downturned economy but also the lingering effects of poverty and inadequate education.
“I’ve got to tell you that the first thought that I had when we pulled up on the scene here is whether we were in America,” NBC News’ Ron Mott told MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” during its evening broadcast.
And yet, the larger political battle was borne out once again by reader comments on news sites — pitting those who are concerned they are next in such lines against the hard-heartedness of today’s American conservative, balanced by the compassionate voice of one who “made it” but understands today’s reality:
We’re supposed to be the richest nation in the world, yet we can’t house, feed or take care of the people who live here. What a shame. The ‘haves’ hold all the cards and not only are they not sharing, they’re not allowing anyone else in the game! But it’s a fact that 1% of the population controls 90% of the wealth. I’m not wealthy, nobody in my family is wealthy, but I’m sure as hell not getting ahead and, in fact, am extremely worried about my job prospects!
The government owes you NOTHING! Not housing, nor food, nor care. People need to learn to be self-sufficient. I grew up one of 6 children with a single mother who put herself through nursing school, raised us all, and busted her @$ to keep us all fed and housed. It wasn’t easy, but she did it. You know how? HARD WORK. You can have ANYTHING you want in life – IF you are willing to WORK for it. It’s SUCH B.S. – oh those “poor people waiting in line for Section 8” – give me a break. Get off your butts and do something. No one is going to create an opportunity for you but yourself. You can have whatever you want if you’re willing to go get it.
Sorry S, but you are being a bit too harsh. I am one of the lucky ones. I worked very hard AND got a few lucky breaks– like a full fellowship to grad school that even paid my living expenses. I always had multiple job offers, was never ‘let go’ from a position, made enough to put money some away, and retired comfortably with a pension and SS. I see people all around me who work just as hard as I ever did and who are at least as smart as I am, whose lives have been devastated for reasons completely beyond their control. The work world I entered into no longer exists. Yes, there are some jerks out there who want to be taken care of without lifting a finger but there are many more who believed in the American “dream” which turned out to be a nightmare for them. Have a little compassion.