By Maria Saporta
A transition in leadership is underway at the Atlanta Housing Authority.
Joy Fitzgerald, AHA’s president and CEO, announced Thursday that she’ll be retiring from the agency on Dec. 31.
At the same time, AHA announced that its board has named Catherine Buell as Fitzgerald’s successor. Buell has been serving as AHA’s chief operating officer since January.
In her first interview upon being named as AHA’s incoming president and CEO, Buell revealed that housing is in her blood.
“My mother worked for HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) for 40 years,” said Buell, a lawyer and real estate professional who grew up in Silver Springs, Md.
Buell moved to Atlanta to attend Spelman College – being drawn to the Atlanta University Campus because her older brother was at Morehouse College. She then got her law degree from Georgetown University.
“The board is delighted Ms. Buell has agreed to succeed Ms. Fitzgerald as president and CEO,” said Daniel Halpern, chairman of AHA’s board. “We are confident that with Catherine’s wealth of senior leadership and real estate experience, she will enhance the authority’s focus on expanding affordable housing throughout Atlanta.”
Buell, 36, has been in the real estate and economic development fields for most of her career. Prior to joining AHA, Buell served as the executive director of St. Elizabeth’s East, a national historic landmark in the Anacostia community. St. Elizabeth’s East is the largest redevelopment project for the Washington D.C. government – estimated at $2.5 billion over the next 20 years.
“When I ran St. Elizabeth, I lived, worked and played in the same community,” Buell said. “I was ready for a big change.”
That’s how she ended up at AHA.
“I had always wanted to move back to Atlanta,” said Buell, who is getting to know the city again. “In Atlanta, there’s an opportunity to make an impact. The Housing Authority here had made a huge leap and significantly increased the quality of life for its residents.”
Since being here, she has been studying the different properties that AHA owns to uncover opportunities to create affordable housing.
Atlanta has quite a legacy with public housing. It was the first city in the country to get public housing when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. Atlanta also was the first city to develop a Hope 6 project – Centennial Place.
Today AHA is implementing a “2016 model” of Hope – creating mixed-income communities that are more more walkable.
“Part of AHA’s challenge is that we have a lot of tools in our tool belt,” Buell said. “We anticipate there are going to be more partnerships. AHA’s tools can be used for new projects near the BeltLine. We want to make sure our numbers make sense to developers.”
Buell has a strong interest and background in preservation – having chaired the the Historic Preservation Review Board of Washington, D.C.
“I really come from the community,” said Buell, who said one of the department’s priorities will be working on the $30 million Choice grant from HUD for the Westside neighborhoods. “We want to make sure the agency is connecting with people throughout the community.”
Meanwhile, Buell is grateful to Fitzgerald, who will be staying in place for the next three months.
“Joy has agreed not to depart quickly,” Buell said. “She and I have a great relationship, and we’ll be working on the transition.”
Fitzgerald has been with AHA for nearly 12 years – working as vice president of real estate development before being named CEO.
Under her leadership, the authority has:
- Significantly expanded the number of households served.
- Closed transactions on 21 mixed-income, public-private partnerships for multifamily and senior housing, producing 2,886 units.
- Secured an additional 3,326 units of affordable housing through contracts with privately owned apartment complexes.
- Brought technological innovations to AHA’s customer service operations, which allowed for a significant increase in voucher utilization.
- Opened the Housing Choice Waiting List for the first time in 10 years.
- Continuously met all of HUD’s Moving to Work benchmarks, received clean audits for the last three years and worked tirelessly to improve the efficiency and culture of AHA.
“Ms. Fitzgerald has helped stabilize the Atlanta Housing Authority, secure new affordable housing opportunities for Atlantans such as HUD’s $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant, and helped the Authority save millions in administrative costs,” said AHA Chairman Halpern in a statement. “We are thankful for Ms. Fitzgerald’s long record of service and achievements.”