Recent media coverage about the salary of Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Renee Glover and the salaries of her senior staff led me to wonder, “Are questions and debates about ‘salary levels’ getting at the correct issue?”
The reported AHA salaries are larger than most public employee salaries, and I believe that invites us to look at a larger, more valuable question: “What is the taxpayer’s return on investment from these public employees?
When she left a successful law practice in 1994 to become chief executive of Atlanta’s public housing agency, Glover assumed responsibility for the city’s distressed public housing projects, a severely dysfunctional and bloated public agency, and 50,000 low-income citizens. At Glover’s arrival, AHA teetered on insolvency, and it lacked the confidence of its customers; federal, state and local governments, and the civic and business communities.
AHA had 1,217 employees with a payroll of $26 million when she arrived. Accounting for inflation, those employees today would have combined salaries of approximately $39 million.
Today, AHA employs 216 people with a payroll of $17.2 million. The decrepit, crime-ridden projects have been demolished and replaced with vibrant, healthy, mixed-income communities. The agency is financially strong.
Once known as the most violent city in America, Atlanta today is known for its thriving mixed-use, mixed-income communities. Scores of low-income children and their families now live in healthy neighborhoods, and many of these children are college-bound. With the assistance of AHA, young single mothers are working and creating careers at rates on par with all of Atlanta. Low-income seniors are living in comfort.
The first AHA redevelopment was on the site of Techwood/Clark Howell Homes near Georgia Tech. The new development, Centennial Place, boasts a model, academically superior, public elementary school. Last year, 49 of the first children who had started kindergarten at Centennial Place Elementary School went on to college, including Georgia Tech and many Ivy League schools — ending a cycle of poverty.
The model was quickly adapted to other former housing project sites. With assistance from the Cousins Foundation, AHA applied its model at East Lake, creating Drew Charter, which has become one of the top-performing schools in Atlanta. Private and philanthropic organizations have confidence in Glover and her team. Nearly $200 million of private investments has been made in the East Lake community alone.
This sort of transformation has spread to neighborhoods once blighted by their proximity to Atlanta’s notorious housing projects. Developers, other businesses and philanthropic organizations have invested more than $3 billion in and near new AHA-sponsored communities across the city.
Glover and her team oversee one of the largest asset management and real estate enterprises in Georgia. The results of their efforts are clear. AHA has gone from dreaded public liability to valued public asset.
Many people, myself included, believe AHA’s undeniable impact required professionals who are “best in class.” AHA’s investment in its staff and leadership has saved the city millions, has leveraged tens of millions in new investments, and has added to the city’s tax-base — and thousands of lives have been saved and vastly improved.
Great leaders and organizations create great results. Glover is a talented leader, and AHA has produced excellent, lasting results. Under Glover, AHA spends less, hires the best, and creates great positive outcomes for its customers and the city.
So do I believe taxpayers are getting a good return on the investment they’ve made in Glover and her team? The answer is an unqualified “yes.”
Shirley Franklin is a former mayor of Atlanta.