AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Atlanta Housing Authority closes deal with developer, then chastises him

Atlanta Housing Authority board members voted Monday evening to build apartments with a developer who made inflammatory comments about the agency and public housing residents, but not without chastising him in an open meeting.

Members stressed that they felt pressured to continue with Integral Group as master developer for the $21.6 million Ashley I at Scholars Landing because they did not have time to consider other options. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development deadline to close that phase of the development is Tuesday.

"I understand it’s a time sensitive mater, and yet I still have heartburn," said Christopher Edwards, the lone board member to vote against the deal. "I really believe that all partners that we work with at the Housing Authority have to be in line with our mission. And that’s affordable housing. Period."

Integral co-founder Egbert Perry called residents of public housing projects "pathologically deficient" in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story published on March 12. He also said that current AHA leaders were "clowns" because they opposed a deal that would have allowed him to purchase at a deep discount nearly a quarter of the authority's vacant land. None of it was envisioned for affordable housing.

Perry, who gained national attention for his work demolishing and replacing Atlanta's housing projects during the 1990s and 2000s, said he deserved the discount because he created every cent of value on the properties he planned to buy. All of the plots were located on or near the sites of housing projects that Perry's company helped redevelop.

But the deal put the city's housing agency for the poor in the position of subsidizing new homes and shopping for the wealthy, according to an AJC investigation. The city is currently facing an affordable housing crisis.

A spokeswoman for Integral Group did not immediately return a call requesting comment on Monday's vote.

As part of Monday's Scholars Landing agreement, Integral receives $5.6 million in HUD grant money to create 135 rental units near Atlanta University Center. The remainder of the cost is financed through tax credits and a private loan.

Some 80 percent pf the Scholars Landing units will be reserved for low income and working class residents.

AHA President and CEO Catherine Buell said the final Scholars Landing agreement will give the agency nearly $2 million more in revenue than earlier versions drafted before she took her post late last year. The additional money will fund more affordable housing.

"This is moving us in the right direction," Buell said.

After the vote, AHA board members took turns responding to Perry's comments in the AJC.

"I don’t view any of my colleagues on the board as 'clowns'. And I certainly don’t think anyone we help lend assistance to is any way 'pathologically deficient'," said board chair Daniel Halpern. He added that Perry's comments were "offensive and pretty mean spirited."

"We want our development partners to do well," said board member Robert Rumley. "And we want the people we serve to do even better."

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