By Sean Keenan
In yet another shocking switcheroo, the Atlanta Housing (AH) board of commissioners on Wednesday approved a settlement agreement that could end a years-long legal battle between the public housing agency and developer Integral Group and its partners.
The unanimous decision to okay the settlement came less than a week after the board opted not to vote on the matter, a move that all but guaranteed the involved parties would be headed to trial.
The terms of the agreement have largely remained the same, although board chair Christopher Edwards said at Wednesday’s meeting that, after recent negotiations with Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry, “There are significant concessions that Mr. Perry has agreed to.”
The settlement still needs to be approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but previously outlined details would mandate that AH pay the Integral Group team $1.8 million in legal fees racked up during the litigation.
It also would convey nearly 80 acres of land neighboring four of Integral Group’s mixed-income communities to a partnership between the development teams and Atlanta Housing for roughly $21.9 million. The combined properties have been appraised at more than $60 million, Integral Group and AH officials have told SaportaReport in the past. The involved developers would also be 50/50 partners with AH, per the agreement.
Newly added terms, though, illustrate land-use restrictions that would mean, if Integral Group decides to sell the acreage in question, the affordable housing components of the deal would transfer over to the next owner, Edwards said before the vote.
The settlement still states that the development partnerships “shall develop or ensure the development” of 2,035 residences on the land in question, and that 389 of those units would have to be earmarked as “affordable” housing priced at between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income.
Now, AH would have the right of first refusal in the case that Integral Group ultimately wants to sell the property.
Under the revised agreement, the developer and its partners Urban Realty Partners and H.J. Russell would have three years from the date HUD (ideally) approves the deal to start building. And when those units are delivered, the developers would be expected to market them first to local working class folks such as police, firefighters, teachers or veterans.
The final vote, though, didn’t come without a considerable amount of drama. For instance, during the Friday meeting, during which the board declined to vote on the settlement, community members lamented that the AH board didn’t provide enough opportunities for public input regarding the dispute.
Additionally, AH officials have long contended that Integral Group and its partners are getting the better end of the deal. Integral Group officials would counter that they shared an interest with AH in the deal, and that local publications had misrepresented it as a “sweetheart” agreement.
Ultimately, though, the board determined that AH needed to “get out of the lawsuit business,” as Edwards has put it repeatedly. “Some of us think there’s every justification to continue [the legal battle],” he said. But doing so, he conceded, would mean spending more taxpayer money and consuming time that would better be used working to create and preserve affordable housing.
Edwards also made clear that AH is not in the habit of selling public land to private developers — the majority of the agency’s deals entail ground leases instead, he said during the meeting — and that “We will never sell public land like this again.”
Putting the long-running issue behind them, Edwards added, “allows us to shift the focus of this organization back to the business of providing affordable housing.”
In a brief interview after the vote, Perry told SaportaReport that he’s also glad to put the legal melee in the past. “I look forward to working with the city and the housing authority toward the mayor’s vision for affordable housing,” he said.
(Header photo: Maria Saporta)
By Sean Keenan