By Maggie Lee and Maria Saporta
A Wednesday morning meeting of the board of Atlanta’s housing authority signals that two aging legal wrangles are set to continue.
The board voted to approve a settlement involving a payout of $265,000 to a former CEO of the authority, Renee Glover, whom the city sued. But there was a hitch. Glover’s lawyer said there is no settlement on the table to approve.
Glover headed the Atlanta Housing Authority for almost 20 years, ending in 2013 when then-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was able to get her to resign. In 2017, the city of Atlanta sued Glover and developer Egbert Perry and his company, the Integral Group. The city claimed that in 2011, the authority and Integral had entered into sweetheart deals that had been too favorable to Integral and its development partners.
About a year ago, the city withdrew its lawsuit. But Glover fired back with a suit against the authority – accusing it and, specifically former Mayor Reed, of trying to smear her reputation. Glover and the authority entered into mediation in late 2018, and they reached a proposed settlement agreement around Feb. 18, according to Glover’s attorney, William Hill.
However, in four Atlanta Housing board meetings since then, the board failed to vote on the settlement agreement. Glover then withdrew her support for it on March 28.
Then on Wednesday morning, the board decided to approve the settlement, in a meeting with only one board member present in person and five others on the phone. The voice vote to approve the settlement passed unanimously.
“An agreement was reached and the board voted on the matter as soon as practically possible,” said AH spokesman Jeff Dickerson via e-mail. “A check is being held in escrow.”
As of the middle of last year, Glover’s legal fees topped $227,000, and that has continued to rise due to a federal inquiry caused by Reed’s actions, according to a court filing from last year by Glover’s lawyers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported those fees are now above $300,000.
So, according to Glover’s team, the matter has not been resolved. But to Atlanta Housing, it has been.
As for Egbert Perry and Integral, AH also took up that matter during Wednesday morning’s meeting.
Atlanta Housing is in a lawsuit with four separate joint venture partners related to Integral, a company founded by Perry and that now has become a major national developer.
In court documents, Integral’s attorneys have accused the housing authority of wrongfully dragging out an option for the developers to acquire ownership of property adjacent to their developments – based on an agreement struck years ago.
Back in 2011, when Glover led what was then called the Atlanta Housing Authority, it and Integral inked a deal that gave Integral-linked entities the option to purchase nearly 100 acres adjacent to four mixed-income developments that Integral and its partners had co-developed with the authority.
The agreement called for the land sale to be based on the value of how much the land had appreciated from what it was worth before they had been developed into to mixed-income communities. AHA and Integral’s development partners would split the proceeds of that land appreciation – based on three different land appraisals (one for AHA, one for Integral and a third).
Then in 2017, when Integral wanted to exercise its options to purchase the adjacent property, the housing authority sued – arguing that Integral and its partners would be getting the property at a below-market price.
Integral argued that the housing authority had not moved in a timely way to get the property appraised – preventing Integral and its partners from acquiring their interest in the land.
Finally, a year ago, a Fulton County Superior judge dismissed AHA’s lawsuit against Integral. And finally appraisals were secured. A private appraiser presented findings from a panel of appraisers to the housing authority board last month.
But at that meeting last month, the board took no action. On Wednesday, the board voted down the appraisals. Board member Robert Rumley recused himself, and at least four “no” votes were audible, one of which was the in-person vote of James Allen.
A few hours later, Perry issued a statement. When including the portions of the property that had already been developed, at least 50 percent of the residences at the four sites would be priced for people who make low or extremely low incomes. He said that would satisfy the developers’ obligations to provide affordable housing.
“Given that AHA’s claims were dismissed by the court in April 2018 and their own appraisals reflect just how grossly fabricated their claims were in the first instance, it seems more clear now than before that this unnecessarily public dispute is designed to malign Integral’s reputation and adversely impact its business,” Perry’s statement reads in part. “In the end, this only benefits the private lawyers and costs the taxpayers millions of dollars.”
In 2017, the housing authority, in an AJC article, claimed the land was worth some $138 million at that time. The panel of assessors came up with a value of roughly $62 million, according to last month’s presentation.
The housing authority’s board chair said that it would continue to negotiate in good faith with Perry and the Integral Group; and AH Chairman Christopher Edwards praised the company’s work.
“Today, however, the city of Atlanta is facing an affordable housing crisis of historic proportions and it is essential that any sale of publicly owned land include a strong commitment to affordable housing,” Edwards said in a written statement.
The agency is about to get a new CEO after years of turmoil with little progress in building any affordable housing developments since Glover left.
It’s was during Glover’s leadership when AHA demolished nearly all of its old-style housing projects in favor of partnering with private developers to build mixed-income communities. The argument was that poor people had greater chance to improve their economic mobility if they weren’t isolated into communities with only low-income neighbors.
Today, the authority has hundreds of acres of vacant land that it hasn’t redeveloped. Housing advocates have argued that if the city of Atlanta is serious about addressing its shortage of affordable housing units, it will need an engaged and dedicated Atlanta housing authority.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has publicly announced aggressive goals to address the affordable housing gap in the city.
“It’s just about us continuing to push forward in getting us 20,000 affordable housing units and $1 billion in funding,” Bottoms said after the announcement March 28 that Gregory Johnson had been named as the new CEO for Atlanta Housing. “I don’t think we can get close to that without working in tandem with the housing authority.”
Update: this story was updated Monday, April 15, after SaportaReport received a copy of the draft settlement agreement pursuant to a request under the Georgia Open Records Act.