Locked out 

How one of the country's most lauded housing agencies rebuilt the homes of the poor to better serve the middle class

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Techwood became a guinea pig for the mixed-income experiment. There, in the shadows of Georgia Tech and Coke headquarters, junked cars lined cracked pavement. Buildings patched with plywood sheltered crack whores and armed drug dealers. Police homicide and narcotic squads were repeat visitors.

Demolition of the 1,000 apartments began in 1995. Over the next five years, thanks to $42.5 million in HOPE VI grants and an infusion of capital from private developers, Techwood Homes vanished.

Today, at the newly named Centennial Place, gabled apartments, a math magnet school, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, computer labs and a YMCA stretch across 16 city blocks. SUV-driving yuppies live next door to welfare mothers. Murder is an anachronism. Occupancy is near 100 percent.

Glover, who took over the agency the year before Techwood's transformation began, was dubbed public housing's savior.

After Techwood's first phase of apartments opened in 1996, Glover managed to lift the authority off HUD's list of troubled agencies. A former corporate attorney and senior aide in the Bill Campbell mayoral campaign, she coaxed another $144 million from HUD for four more public HOPE VI redevelopments. She also hunted down separate funds to rebuild another four complexes as mixed-income communities. And she won the favor of private investors, developers and the city, who more than matched HUD's contribution to the brave new world of mixed-income housing.

"It became clear to me early on ... that the organization was much more troubled than anyone had imagined, including me," Glover says in her written statement to CL. "Given the condition of this agency in 1994, the turnaround has been dramatic, although I am not yet satisfied that [the housing authority] has achieved the level of excellence I envision."

The press, however, appeared convinced from the start. In 1997, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorialist tsk-tsked the City Council's audacity to question Glover's $175,000 annual salary. (The highest-ranked HUD official was making $148,000 at the time.) "A raise for Glover?" the AJC asked. "Absolutely. We wouldn't want her to leave."

Two years later, The Atlanta Business Chronicle named Glover one of the 100 most influential Atlantans, citing Techwood and subsequent transformations. And the AJC wrote, "When Atlantans are searching for capable leaders in the future, they'd be wise to keep Glover in mind."

In eight years with Glover at the helm, the Atlanta Housing Authority has become a partner in the reformation of the city's most downtrodden neighborhoods. It helped stoke the resurgence around Centennial Olympic Park, along the tree-lined streets of East Lake and in the loft district of Castleberry Hill. Anchored by Glover's mixed-income developments, the surrounding neighborhoods have seen crime rates plummet by as much as 95 percent and nearby home appraisals (as well as the tax base) skyrocket.

At Centennial Place, the AHA twice in its first year raised the rents it charges middle-class tenants. By the end of 1997, a three-bedroom was going for $1,300. By 1999, 20 percent of Centennial Place's new residents had incomes topping $55,000, according to the AJC.

"I wanted to meet the same standards set by private-sector apartment owners and managers like Post Properties," Glover says. "Today, our revitalized communities are on par with any market-rate apartment complex in metro Atlanta."

Julia Hall can attest to that. Hall once lived in a place named East Lake Meadows, which is east of East Atlanta. Most residents called it "Little Vietnam." In a 1990 gun battle, a 4-year-old girl there died after a stray bullet zipped through her house and killed her as she lay on the couch.

Over her 22-year stay, Hall struggled to protect 13 grandchildren from the death sentence -- be it by homicide or crack cocaine -- of Atlanta's most dangerous public housing complex.

Now that the housing authority has cleaned up the neighborhood, and an 18-hole golf course circles wood-trimmed "luxury apartments" and "townhouse villas," Hall believes she's earned reparations for years of surviving a war zone. "I feel like we're living in Buckhead Two," she says of the gated community built four years ago on the grave of the bullet-punctured projects. "It's real nice. I love it. I wouldn't trade it for nothing."

Hall, though, was one of the few for whom a trade was possible.

Eva Davis, another longtime resident of East Lake Meadows, is well aware of the narrow tightrope leading back to public housing.

"Ain't nobody been told what a crooked pill they pulled on the residents of East Lake," says Davis, who despite being fully qualified for return had to fight her way in with a lawyer.

The problem is rooted in simple math. In its former life, East Lake Meadows had 660 units. Its replacement, the Villages of East Lake, contains 542 units. Of those units, only 217 are allotted for public housing families. Only 60 families had been East Lake Meadows residents.

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