Let's assume Mayor Kasim Reed is right in forcing out Renee Glover, the Atlanta Housing Authority's longtime CEO.
We'll assume that Glover, lauded nationally for creating "the Atlanta Model" of public housing — tearing down huge complexes of impoverished communities in favor of smaller, mixed-income, mixed-use centers run by private landlords who take vouchers to accept AHA-qualified tenants — had outlived her usefulness. Seventeen years on the job is a long time for anyone, so we'll assume, as the mayor's actions suggest, that the AHA had become her personal fiefdom, answerable to no one but her, and that such a thing is inherently bad for government.
We'll assume that even though some other cities are remaking their housing authority in Atlanta's image (New Orleans, most recently), problems in the Atlanta Model were not being addressed. Most notably, this means the fear that displacement of tenants from these razed communities was too disruptive and left too many exposed to the possibility of homelessness. (Council members and at least one Georgia Tech housing expert have passionately made this case.) As housing expert Howard Husock notes, regarding the AHA's efforts, "One would be naïve to think that a demolition/relocation approach to public housing would be uncontroversial." But let's not quibble, right? We're looking forward here.
So let's continue to assume that the high-profile missteps of the AHA, such as spending millions on public relations and consulting groups, are in and of themselves so lacking in fiduciary responsibility that cleaning house is in order. Given that the monies spent on PR usually led to obfuscation, and the monies spent on the consulting group led to a series of no-duh goals (best summarized as "let's try to make the things that aren't working work better"), this assumption doesn't take much effort.
Assuming all these things to be true, we understand Reed's actions. It's why the Reed-appointed AHA board and Glover are negotiating her departure. It's why he wants more local control of the housing authority — to him, it's all about accountability.
Fine, Mayor Reed. The new director will soon be accountable.
All of which means: This one's on you.
You are now responsible, Mayor Reed, for taking the best of the Atlanta Model and improving upon it. Will you better integrate the city's housing efforts with its homeless policies, providing a step toward one and away from the other? Will you use your clout to convince corporations to invest in the new mixed-income communities before they become blighted by neglect, just as the previous large-scale projects were? Will you ignore your concerns about process and accountability long enough to make things happen (which, by the way, is Glover's greatest legacy)?
It's imperative you take responsibility for this, instead of engaging in the long, slow public-policy procedural dance: months finding a new director, months weeding out those loyal to the old director, months debating a new approach, months arguing about the value of said new approach, all before you move on to a Cabinet-level job and leave a mess for the next mayor.
As another noted housing authority once said: "No doubt, these questions [about public-housing policy] are important, and they must be answered. But as the starting point for decision-making, I think we can all agree that doing nothing or continuing to do things that have failed in the past makes no sense. There is simply too much at stake."
That expert was Renee Glover. We assume and suggest, Mayor Reed, that you remember her.
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