Slightly more than half the families displaced by last year’s demolition of Cooper Homes are in public housing complexes elsewhere in Anniston, according to data from the Anniston Housing Authority.
It’s unclear how many of the rest remained within city limits, but the data suggests many didn’t move too far from Cooper. Just where they did land has become a topic of debate in City Council meetings.
“We relocated them properly,” said Willie “Sonny” McMahand, director of the Housing Authority.
McMahand and other public housing officials have been planning for years to demolish and replace some of the city’s oldest public housing projects, including the Depression-era Glen Addie Homes and Barber Terrace, the hillside apartment complex on the city’s south side, built in 1944.
That project began with the demolition of Cooper last year. Residents were relocated to other housing projects or given vouchers to rent homes elsewhere.Housing authority officials plan to build a less-dense collection of houses and townhouses that won’t be so readily recognizable as public housing.
In recent City Council meetings, that move has generated concerns that the Housing Authority is actually shipping people out of Anniston, a city that has already been shrinking in recent years.
“They’re trying to dilute the vote and hurt the Anniston school system,” said Councilman Ben Little. Little said he became concerned about the issue after a constituent forwarded him a form letter from the Housing Authority to local landlords, which notes that the authority is seeking new rental properties “in the Saks, Weaver, Eastaboga and Oxford areas.”
McMahand said Monday that 52 of the families in the 101-unit Cooper Homes have stayed not only within Anniston but within Housing Authority properties, moving to locations such as Barber Terrace or Glen Addie.
One resident moved out and became a homeowner, McMahand said. Three moved in with relatives. Eighteen families moved out on their own, without rental assistance from the Housing Authority. McMahand said. Housing officials don’t track those residents once they leave public housing, McMahand said.
The remainder, 28 families, moved to rental properties with assistance from the federal government under the program known as Section 8. McMahand said he didn’t know how many were inside city limits and how many were outside the city, but he did have a breakdown by ZIP code.
— Eleven rented in the ZIP code 32601, which covers much of western Anniston, Blue Mountain and Saks. Cooper Homes was also in that ZIP code.
— Six moved to the ZIP code that includes McClellan.
— Six moved to a ZIP code covering eastern Aniston, White Plains and Choccolocco and.
— Two were in a Saks/northern Anniston ZIP code.
— One was in a ZIP code that covers parts of Anniston and Oxford.
— Two moved to rental properties outside the state.
McMahand said the move was done in compliance with the Uniform Relocation Act, a federal law that governs public housing relocations. The law mostly addresses monetary compensation for people who’ve been relocated.
Little said he’s concerned that the Cooper move will cost the city residents come April, with the 2020 Census count is done. The city’s population has been in decline since peaking at more than 33,000 in 1960.
Most Cooper residents who talked to The Star before the demolition seemed willing to move. But in Barber Terrace, which is also slated for eventual demolition, there may be some unease about the move. Resident Erica Tolson said she doesn’t mind a move but doesn’t want to leave Anniston.
“This is my home. All I know is Anniston,” she said.
People who do leave could face both opportunities and challenges, studies suggest. A 2016 study by the University of Virginia found that kids who moved out of closed housing projects in Chicago under a voucher program earned 16 percent more in adulthood than kids who stayed behind. Astudy released this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that black and white families leaving public housing had similar desires for their new neighborhoods, though black families reported more barriers to getting into those neighborhoods.
Both of those studies were done in major urban areas, and it’s not clear if they apply to a smaller market like Anniston’s.
“The thing you need to keep in mind is, where are people moving to, and where are they moving from?” said Eric Chyn, economics professor and author of the University of Virginia study. Chyn said he’s not sure why Chicago kids who left housing projects made more money, though he noted that schools didn’t seem to be a factor. Many of the kids in the study, he said, didn’t move far enough to change school systems.
McMahand earlier this week said he would travel to Montgomery on Wednesday to talk to state environmental officials about what sort of cleanup needs to be done before construction can begin.