PBS' 'East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story' Tackles Racism in Housing

Rick and Christina Gables
PBS EAST LAKE MEADOWS A PUBLIC HOUSING STORY CHILD RESIDENT BRANDON THRASHER
Courtesy of PBS

East Lake Meadows, the public housing project opened by the Atlanta Housing Authority in 1970 and demolished a generation later, is the subject of a new documentary that tackles the impact of racism on housing while also exploring the daily lives of those who called East Lake Meadows home.

The documentary film East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story, which is executive produced by Ken Burns, will air Tuesday, March 24 on PBS.

PBS EAST LAKE MEADOWS A PUBLIC HOUSING STORY RESIDENTS RILENE AND CHASITY DIXON

Courtesy of PBS

In 1970, the Atlanta Housing Authority opened the 650-unit public housing community called East Lake Meadows on the edge of Atlanta.

Built on the former practice golf course of the Atlanta Athletic Club, which had moved north as part of the white flight that was impacting Atlanta and cities around the country, East Lake Meadows quickly became home to many thousands of low-income Atlantans, mostly African American.

PBS EAST LAKE MEADOWS A PUBLIC HOUSING STORY RESIDENT EVA DAVIS

Courtesy of PBS

Initially praised for the spacious units and new construction, East Lake Meadows quickly became known as “little Vietnam,” a moniker that was intended to capture the rampant crime and violence that overwhelmed the community.

Shoddy construction and a lack of funding left the project and surrounding landscape in disrepair and led to a rapid decline in the quality of life.

The film tells the stories of more than a dozen families who lived in the community between the 1970s and its demolition in the mid-1990s, documenting the tremendous hardships faced; the lack of access to grocery stores and fresh produce; the impact of devastating unemployment and poverty; conditions that included mold, leaky pipes, and collapsing walls and ceilings; and the seemingly ubiquitous presence of crime, drugs and guns.

It also follows the births of children, celebration of holidays, daily activities in schools and the ways in which residents were “making a way out of no way.”

East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story, Premiere, Tuesday, March 24, 8/7c, on PBS (Check your local listings)