For Atlanta, it is opportunity squared.
The federal government, into two separate planning grants, is strategically targeting the neighborhoods around the Atlanta University Center for a multi-dimensional renaissance.
As this week’s guest columnist, Clara Axam, explains, Atlanta first received a $500,000 “Promise Neighborhood” planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education last fall to improve the educational opportunities in the poor communities around the Atlanta University Center.
Then, on April 1, the same communities were given a $250,000 “Choice Neighborhood” planning grant to come up with a plan to transform the same area into a sustainable, mixed-income and mixed-use community.
What makes these grants so special is that they demonstrate the multi-faceted strategy by the administration of President Barack Obama to revive our cities. The administration recognizes the links between housing, education, transportation and the environment — and it is offering the communities that can translate that policy on the ground with significant implementation grants.
In making the $250,000 grant announcement, Edward Jennings Jr., the regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that the administration has realized the inter-connectivity between all these issues.
“You can determine a child’s prowess and opportunity by the zip code,” Jennings said. In certain zip codes, where “the illiteracy rate is high, the poverty rate is high and unemployment is high,” a child will have a tougher time becoming successful. “It takes a community to build a child,” Jennings said.
Now Atlanta has that opportunity to show federal officials that it to can work in concert to develop a game-plan to transform the communities around the Atlanta University Center.
Dr. John Maupin, president of the Morehouse School of Medicine, which is one of the key institutions making up the Atlanta University Center, said the “two grants coming together” will result in “the most unique fundable proposal” that Atlanta can make to the federal government.
But to be successful, the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Housing Authority must work in harmony to present the strongest application that they can.
So far, during the administration of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the relationship between city government and AHA has been strained, at best. The mayor has been said to be unhappy that Renee Glover, AHA’s president and CEO, is working under a five-year contract. Reed is on record saying that he does not believe in contracts.
The HUD press briefing on April 1 was the first time that Reed and Glover have been together in public. In fact, close city observers have said that the mayor has not been able to find the time to meet with Glover face-to-face since he was elected in November, 2009.
Meanwhile, the mayor has been appointing his people to AHA’s board, and now his appointments hold the majority. The AHA board member who is closest to the mayor is Daniel Halpern, who co-chaired Reed’s mayoral campaign and is co-founder of Jackmont Hospitality, a food service company.
At several recent AHA board meetings, Halpern has been quite vocal in his frustration and displeasure with certain AHA practices.
What makes this situation a bit tricky for the mayor, however, is that Glover is viewed as a superstar in national housing circles.
Jennings made sure to give Glover credit for having brought in more than $220 million in federal housing dollars to Atlanta to support AHA’s efforts to transform “one community at a time.”
At the press briefing, it seemed as though Jennings was sending a message to Atlanta: if we figure out how to work together, we’ve got a real shot at many more millions of dollars to continue the resurgence of our city as federal funds become available.
Jennings described Reed as a “new mayor who is one of the best in the country.” And Jennings repeatedly expressed his admiration for Glover as the national leader for turning traditional housing projects into thriving mixed-income communities.
“You want Renee Glover working with one of the best mayors in the country,” Jennings said, adding that Atlanta would want Glover’s vision included in the grant application that “walks through our doors.”
Glover then promised Jennings that “we are going to work together to put an incredible grant application” to transform a community that could become “the best college town in the entire world.”
In his astute way, Reed also thanked Glover for her “exemplary role in helping transform the culture of a city.”
During the question-and-answer media briefing, I asked Reed and Glover the following question. Given that the federal government is trying to dismantle the silos that exist between the different federal agencies, what are they doing to remove the silos that exist between the city and AHA?
“It’s fundamentally the same entity,” Reed said. “I have the majority of appointments to the board of the Atlanta Housing Authority. I don’t really view us as separate entities at all. I think we’ve made some very good appointees to that board, and it’s moving along.”
Glover then answered the question this way: “There’s been a long-standing tradition, and it continues with this great mayor, of the city and AHA working collaboratively,” she said, before adding: “We understand that we are accountable to the mayor.”
So Atlanta has two opportunities.
It can make an extraordinary case to receive future federal funds that would create thriving communities around the Atlanta University Center.
And Atlanta’s leaders — namely Reed and Glover — can begin to develop a close partnership for the good of the entire city.