By Sean Keenan
On Wednesday, Atlanta Housing CEO Eugene Jones was in Washington D.C. testifying before members of congress about the importance of public housing.
A subcommittee of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee convened for a hearing entitled “A Future without Public Housing? Examining the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Eliminate Public Housing.”
Financial services committee Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said she was worried about the efforts of President Donald Trump’s admistration to defund affordable housing programs. In November, she and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced a bill that seeks more than $100 billion in investment for affordable housing.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Waters and members of the Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance looked to Jones and other housing experts for insights on how and why to protect public housing programs.
The stream of the full hearing is below. The following is a lightly edited transcript of what Jones said during his opening testimony:
Thank you to the subcommittee for this wonderful opportunity. My statements will be brief.
My name is Eugene Jones. I’m a 35-year veteran of public housing leadership, both as a member of a HUD team sent to rescue and turn around ailing public housing authorities around this country, [and] I am currently the president and CEO of [Atlanta Housing].
For the last five years, I was the CEO of Chicago’s public housing authority, the nation’s second largest. It is this body of experience that informs my remarks today. I have seen all sides of the coin — what happens when there is full investment in public housing, what happens when there is not, and what happens when you view public housing as an asset, and what happens when it is seen as a warehouse or worse, as a blight.
Given these questions both in terms of impact on individuals and on communities, while I will reference a variety of communities and experiences, there is no question that Chicago’s public housing [authority] presents the most complete case study of the building, the fall, and the resurrection of public housing, its residents and the communities in which they live.
I’m going to take a different tact [than] my colleagues because I agree with most cases about the lack of funding and so forth over all these years, these three decades, the lack of funding. However, it takes a different view of how to manage, how to create, how to keep the housing that you have existing based on limited resources. It provides a way in which you have to use your skill set in order to work public-private partnership to make the best of a maybe bad situation.
I have been blessed, or I have been lucky to work at a variety of housing authorities that have funding mechanisms [in which] I can create, and that I can maintain and acquire housing. As I’ve always said across this country, I think every housing authority should be an MTW — which is Moving to Work — because it provides flexibility for my colleagues.
[*UNINTELLIGIBLE*] for the smaller housing authorities, as well as the medium size and the large, too — to anticipate, to direct, to assist in these public-private partnerships for flexibility in the funding that they get from HUD. It is [*UNINTELLIGIBLE*], it comes in a bundle, you have fungibility, and you can provide the same amount of housing, but you can leverage those dollars and create better housing. And also with MTW agencies, you can provide the opportunity where you can be innovative.
In Chicago, we did three libraries which had public housing on top of the libraries for a community benefit for the whole community. And it was a resounding success because we were able to be very innovative by using the state resources, using the city resources, and using the HUD resources we receive, and all the other public-private partnership and philanthropic agencies that we can pool our resources and come up with a strategy that’s best for a community.
I think if we work much better with other agencies like the VA, Transportation and HHS — because we’re all in this together — is how we can meld together different aspects of what we’re providing with housing, transportation, education and health. And so how can we manage that with a holistic approach and provide a better housing situation for our communities. Let us not forget that we’re here as executive directors, CEOs, everyone who’s on this panel, we are trying to protect the residents’ rights, we’re trying to protect the residents’ wellbeing and their quality of life.
I think, with the resources that we do have, I think they’re limited. But I think that with the resources we do have that we can manage those resources the best that we can and get the best product for our residents. And that is the end of my presentation.
TODAY – the Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance, chaired by Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, is holding a hearing entitled, “A Future Without Public Housing? Examining the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Eliminate Public Housing.”
— U.S. House Committee on Financial Services (@FSCDems) February 5, 2020