AHA and Egbert Perry – Know the history before attacking Integral’s options on land

By Guest Columnist HATTIE DORSEY, civic volunteer, founder and retired president of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership

After reading recent news articles about Egbert Perry and the Integral Co., I find I just cannot sit idly by and not respond in some fashion. I reluctantly take issue with many of my housing advocate friends who express concern based on media reports that do not dive into the history of what public housing use to be like in Atlanta. Because I happen to know what Integral’s vision was – Redevelop the terrible public housing projects into new and mixed income communities – I want to add my voice because I was involved.

Hattie Dorsey

Hattie Dorsey

The good news is that the vision is working: Horrible housing has been replaced with communities where anyone would not mind living. My discomfort about what I read is because it does not describe the person I know and whose corporate mission I support. I want to share a bit of background of why I think this series of conversations are off track and diversionary.

When founded, the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP), of which I was the founding president, promoted the philosophy of mixed income neighborhoods through a housing revitalization platform. We formed a relationship early on with the Atlanta Housing Authority, which then was listed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a failing authority, and watched two executives leave.

When Renee Glover stepped down from AHA’s board chair to assume the position of executive director (a job she did not want), it was because no one wanted to take the risk of taking charge of what was seen as a failing housing agency.

Egbert Perry had formed a new company to develop mixed income housing – I made the introduction to Renee Glover. I knew the intent of Integral – to redevelop horrible public housing projects into new mixed income communities. Perry believed that families of low, moderate and middle income could live side by side – breaking up the cycle of housing low income families in communities with very low expectations.

I know the folks at Integral, and don’t believe statements the new people at AHA make. I know of no new housing starts in the last eight years that were not already in the pipeline and even those in the pipeline have not been given the go-ahead approval. The need for affordable housing is at a crisis within the city – moving projects into the pipeline would be help many citizens currently living on the margin.

Land at Capitol Gateway is said to be one of the issues between the Atlanta Housing Authority and Integral Co. The project to replace dilapidated Capitol Homes was completed in 2007 by Capitol Redevelopment LLC, comprised of Integral, Urban Realty Partners and Trammell Crow Residential. Integral and Urban Realty are revising a master plan that envisions for-sale townhomes and retail, according to AHA. Credit: atlantahousing.org/real_estate_development.php

Having dealt in the affordable housing arena for much of my working life, I have to take issue with some assumptions. The following are some of the facts:

  • First is to acknowledge that a key component of the Integral Co.’s mission is to “develop mixed income housing;”
  • Integral took on transforming the face of public housing in Atlanta when no one else did anything but complain;
  • Integral took the risk and developed the relationships with AHA, HUD and other housing finance agencies;
  • The partnership formed with AHA conceived and implemented the first holistic revitalization of public housing in the country – addressing early childhood development; encouraging YMCA to put facilities next to, or in close range of, the development; working with Atlanta Public Schools for K-12 education improvements, and the list goes on;
  • Unlike urban renewal, or as I sometimes state, poor people removal, the vision they implemented calls for placing larger percentages of higher income households in the later phases so that the project does not result in mass gentrification;
  • 60 percent of the rental housing units and 20 percent of the for-sale units are affordable, which I believe is higher than what AHA is considering;
  • Most admired is the fact that the model has been copied here in Atlanta and across the country for a reason – it works!
Egbert Perry

A reflective Egbert Perry talks in 2016 about the redevelopment of GM plant into Assembly File/Credit: Maria Saporta

What I gather from what I read is that the properties Integral has under option are now worth more than when the transactions were struck, and other parties want to participate. I marvel at the growth of Atlanta – I am certain that if one had a crystal ball at the time, the price would be closer to today’s market rate. So since it was at the negotiated price way back when, should that price not be honored?

The other reason stated is that the properties would not be affordable – the issue first tackled was to break up large concentrations of poverty through a mixed income approach. Has that changed? The entire group of properties, some of which are already developed, will cater to a mix of incomes. Is this not what the expectations were from the beginning? Is this not about transforming low-income AHA properties to mixed income? Is this not about giving opportunities to children who reside in these housing communities an opportunity to live in safe environments, close to recreational outlets, and attend high performing schools?

Transforming the old image of public housing into mixed income, well maintained communities was the objective – and it did happen.

All of this has happened under the stewardship of Integral. Others have followed suit, others are trying, and now we want to behead the person who showed how it can be done. There are private developers other than Integral on these projects. AHA knows that – why are they singling out Integral? What is the underlying reason?

To end my tirade, I simply want to say it is easy to buy into the conversation that is negative when you don’t know the facts. Since I was around and participated in conversations on how to improve Atlanta’s then deteriorating communities and housing issues, I witnessed Integral step to the plate with a mission to make a difference. Perry has made a difference – just take a moment to look around our city and others he has worked in and applaud rather than take swipes because others want “a piece of the action”.

Enough said!

 

6 replies
  1. George Hawthorne says:

    I totally agree with Hattie, I have known Egbert and Integral since its formation. I would challenge anyone to find a developer that has done more to transform the face of public housing more that Integral and Egbert Perry. The real fact is that now the Mayor and AHA are trying to default on a deal based upon the increased current market value of the properties – and that “increase of value” is a direct result of and directly attributed to the capital invested and financial risks taken by Integral and Egbert Perry when he redeveloped the poverty ridden public housing that had been on the properties in question. I think that the Mayor’s intent to discredit and harm the “character and integrity” of Egbert Perry is a horribly misplaced tirade of the Mayor against a man that I have known for more than 25 years and whom has been a consistent and highly effective advocate for affordable housing and holistic community development of Atlanta’s community.Report

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  2. shirley says:

    Thanks Hattie. Too often we forget the history or don’t know it, when we take sides on an issue. Your first hand account sets the record straight.Report

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  3. Carol says:

    Hattie is spot on. Egbert Perry and Integral took risks that no one else would take to create opportunities for families and communities who had been written off. The partnership between Integral and AHA is not only a national model for best practices in public-private partnerships, it has delivered for the agency, the city and people.Report

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  4. Young Hughley says:

    I appreciate Hattie responding to this issue. Integral was there in the beginning taking the risk. Now that the possibilities of mixed used are known it is wrong to throw one of the leading innovators under the bus. Reason not greed should rule.Report

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  5. C. Amiger says:

    Thanks Hattie for providing a historical perspective of how The Integral Group and Mr. Perry have vastly contributed to providing affordable housing to many of our displaced citizens (especially Seniors) for numerous years. Years ago, I was Broker on an “affordable housing” subdivision owned/developed by the DeKalb Housing Authority. Being a very small independent R.E. Broker, I won the RFP bid (to the amazement of many), and I invested and lost over $80K+ of my hard earned funds. My commitment was for the entire project (over 300 lots), not just to market and sell out Phase I.However, when a major Builder came along with deep pockets, the Authority sold the remaining developed lots to him. He brought his own marketing company in and my company was released with no potential to recoup any of my initial investment. There went the “Affordable Housing” in a much needed area and the prices then started in the high $200k+ range. My point being, it takes an unselfish person to go the extra mile and take a back seat to greed to try and lift up and reach back for the less fortunate. I applaud Mr. Perry and I pray he will prevail in the end, as we all know, The Integral Group has the expertise and proven track record to duplicate the mixed used income model while continuing to improve the quality of life for so many in our great city.Report

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