Thursday calmer at East Point housing office

East Point housing officials began accepting Section 8 applications 90 minutes early Thursday morning after crowds of people showed up to turn in the forms.

A day after a crowd of 30,000 mobbed the housing authority offices to pick up the forms, a small crowd of less than a dozen people began lining up around 5 a.m. The group was dispersed by East Point police about an hour later. But shortly after 7 a.m., officials allowed people to line up on the sidewalk adjacent to the building. There were about 50 people in line at 7:30, when officials brought out boxes and began to accept the applications. That process had been scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Applications will be accepted until 5:30 p.m.

Police used cones to set up a special lane on Norman Berry Drive where people could drop off their forms without getting out of their cars. Housing authority workers in lime green shirts were collecting the applications  in cardboard boxes; police officers were then directing them back into traffic. At 8:30 a.m. the process was running smoothly.

"It's more of a traffic concern today," East Point Police Chief Leander Robinson told the AJC.

Kim Lemish, executive director of the East Point Housing Authority, said, "Today we are accommodating the crowd." She said she spoke Wednesday with the Atlanta field office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and "they expressed their concern about what happened yesterday" and were working on ideas to facilitate the process.

She acknowledged that some of the people who turn in applications will wait years to get housing under the program. She said they will be put on a list but that the process is not necessarily a first-come-first-serve basis. Other criteria, such as financial need, family size, employment status, age and disability, could move some people up on the list.

Lemish said 13,000 applications were distributed Wednesday and that everyone who showed up before the 1 p.m. deadline received one.

Applicants came from all over the metro area and some came from other states. Since the program is a federal program, applications are not limited to East Point residents, Lemish said.

The current process is being conducted because, while all housing units are filled, the waiting list is depleted and the current group of applicants will be put on a new waiting list. There are a total of 655 housing spots available -- 200 public housing units and 455 vouchers for rent assistance in private housing. East Point currently has five housing developments, but three of them will be closed or sold.

Lemish said it will likely be six months before any vacancies arise and that people could spend up to 10 years on the waiting list.

Applicants have until Aug. 30 to turn in their application. Leming said that in the future the process will be done electronically and that people without computer access can come to the housing authority office to use the computer.

While Thursday's process went much smoother, there were some confusing moments early on.

Marissa White arrived at the Housing Authority office about 6:25 a.m. Thursday and walked up to the front door to wait to turn in her application.

Within minutes, an East Point police officer drove by and told White she could not wait outside the office.

“They want us to mail it in, but most folks aren’t going to mail theirs in, thinking they will get lost in the mail,” she said. “And they said first come, first served, so I’m going to be there first,” she said.

White said she lined up at Tri-Cities Plaza just after midnight Wednesday morning to get her application.

“It was so disorganized,” White said. She said authorities had set up barricades to keep the lines orderly, “but those folks knocked them down in 30 minutes.”

“It was crazy,” she said. “It was a sight to see.”

An estimated 30,000 people suffered through hours in the hot sun, angry flare-ups in the crowd, and lots of frustration and confusion for a chance to receive a government-subsidized apartment.

The massive event sometimes descended into a chaotic mob scene filled with anger and impatience. Some 62 people needed medical attention and 20 of them were transported to a hospital, authorities said. A baby went into a seizure in the heat and was stabilized at a hospital. People were removed on stretchers and when a throng of people who had been waiting hours in a line was told to move to another line, people started pushing, shoving and cursing, witnesses said.

Still, officials of East Point declared the day a success. Nobody was arrested and nobody was seriously injured, they said.