Once a month, the Atlanta Housing board of commissioners convenes to discuss policies that dictate how thousands of predominantly low-income residents can or could be helped. You should be there. But you’re not.
In my few weeks covering housing for SaportaReport — and the soon-to-be-announced nonprofit publication Atlanta Civic Circle — I have yet to hear any comments from the public given during the meetings of the city’s housing authority board.
That’s a problem, I believe. And AH CEO Eugene Jones agrees.
It’s easy to criticize the actions — or lack thereof — of a public agency from the comfort or your computer or cell phone, and it’s lazy to complain about enacted policies when the opportunity to make your voice heard relies only on a quick trip to Atlanta Housing’s downtown headquarters on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.
In case it wasn’t already glaringly obvious, Atlanta faces a mounting housing affordability crisis, and the local housing authority is a powerful force poised to — and working to — address it head-on.
But, marred by years of leadership shakeups, some scandal, and, in effect, a roughly decade-long hiatus of developing new affordable housing complexes, AH could use all the help it can get, internally or otherwise.
AH also has hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of acres of land at its disposal. What should become of that, though, shouldn’t be left at the discretion of the six-person board of commissioners, especially considering the sweeping implications affordable housing development has on the future of Atlanta.
But why should someone who doesn’t need government help to find a home care about the exploits of Atlanta’s housing authority? “Because it affects your neighborhood,” Jones told SaportaReport, acknowledging that, in his experience, the amount of public engagement varies by city.
“People want to make sure that their neighborhood is going to continue to be safe, and that [a new development] is part of the neighborhood, and there’s a seamless transition, and that whatever we build does not look like where people expect low-income people to live,” he said. “They want to see vibrant communities; good parks, good schools, good neighborhoods.”
All too often, efforts to build public housing — a dirty word to those in the field — are frustrated or thwarted by NIMBYism (a “not in my backyard” mentality) and a burgeoning preponderance of high-end development within the city limits.
What people who don’t attend AH meetings likely don’t understand is that the agency, and especially its new CEO, Eugene Jones, is striving to reinvent the way we think of public housing.
If Jones has his way during his years at the helm of AH, government-subsidized housing projects in Atlanta will be virtually indistinguishable from market-rate options, meaning — listen closely, NIMBYists — worries of dampened property values due to eyesore developments could be quashed.
None of these dreams, however, pan out properly without adequate community input. Once a month, typically on a Wednesday, AH’s board of commissioners convene to talk shop. In my humble opinion, it would behoove you and your neighbors to show up and have a say.
In the coming months, thankfully, AH board meetings will be streamed online, Jones said. Additionally, he added, “You’ll have a call-in number, and you’ll be able to ask questions [remotely].”
An hour of your time could have a tremendous impact on the future of your community. So why not take the time?