Atlanta housing leaders – once shunned – back on the scene
By Maria Saporta
After an eight-year freeze between the administration of Mayor Kasim Reed and the pioneers of Atlanta’s modern day transformation of public housing, a thawing is taking place.
That thaw was evident on the night of Oct. 18 when top leaders in Atlanta and the nation attended Integral’s 25thanniversary celebration at the Fairmont in west Atlanta.
More than one person noted that such a celebration could not have taken place a year earlier (the actual 25thanniversary of the urban community development firm) because no one would have wanted to contend with the wrath of Mayor Reed if they had attended.
The thaw also was evident in Orlando, at the ninth annual conference of Purpose Built Communities.
The Atlanta-based national community redevelopment consulting entity has developed partnerships with the Grove Park Foundation in addition to its historic work in the East Lake community. And there’s talk that Purpose Built could include other Atlanta neighborhoods into its national network.
That’s a far cry from the relationship that existed during the Reed administration.
Early during his tenure as mayor, Reed developed a vendetta against Renee Glover, the CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority; Egbert Perry, the CEO of the Integral Group; and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, then CEO of Purpose Built Communities.
Those three leaders – along with the organizations they represented – were cast aside while the city saw the beginnings of an intractable shortage of affordable housing.
Early on, Reed was able to push Glover, a nationally-recognized leader in the transformation of public housing projects, out at AHA. For the entire of eight years of his administration, AHA did not build any new affordable housing developments on the hundreds of acres it owned.
Instead, the city and AHA decided to file costly lawsuits against Perry and Glover, which further disintegrated their relationship in Atlanta. Those suits were thrown out and dismissed earlier this year.
And Christopher Edwards, AHA’s chairman, proclaimed after a board meeting earlier this year that the authority “is now out of the lawsuit business.”
AHA, which now calls itself Atlanta Housing, also is looking to go back into the development business, by looking to develop on property it has owned for decades.
Meanwhile, during the Reed administration, Integral and Perry stayed away from doing developments within the City of Atlanta – because of the mayor’s ire against them.
Now that the lawsuits are behind them, Integral and Perry can start working on plans to develop housing on the property they jointly own with the housing authority.
These are encouraging signs, but more thawing needs to take place.
It would have been wonderful if the Atlanta Housing authority, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and key members of her administration had been part of the Integral 25thanniversary. Perry said he didn’t know if they had been invited.
But the Integral event was a reunion of the players who were instrumental in the transformation of public housing projects into mixed-income communities all over the City of Atlanta.
Those in attendance included Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Renee Glover, Mayor Franklin and members of the McCormack Baron Salazar development firm which partnered with Integral on the Techwood Homes to Centennial Place transformation – which became a model for other “Hope VI” communities across the nation.
The Purpose Built Communities conference in Orlando demonstrated that community redevelopment is becoming a science and an art.
It has broadened the Hope VI model of mixed-income communities combined with a quality elementary school to include early learning and after-school programs in a cradle to college model. It also is focusing on health and wellness as well as other quality of life amenities, such as parks and greenspace and small business incubators.
Creating health communities is paramount to Atlanta becoming a city for people of all incomes, races, ethnic backgrounds and generations.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Purpose Built partnered with Atlanta to develop a citywide strategy for healthy communities – weaving a fabric of multiple communities into a more vibrant city.
As the city begins to implement the recommendations of the House ATL task force, we can now bring all our key players back onto the field – including those who have been on the sidelines for way too long.