An update to this story was published on Feb. 3, 2022: Atlanta mayor announces unexpected deal to resolve years-long legal beef between housing authority, developer.
Atlanta Housing (AH) last month enlisted three additional attorneys to the legal team that’s for years been battling developer Integral Group and its development partners — a sign that the housing authority is gearing up for a trial scheduled to begin on March 22.
In dispute are four AH-owned parcels across Atlanta containing approximately 80 acres of development-ripe land that once held public housing projects. The parcels were slated to evolve into mixed-use commercial and residential space, but their future is now unclear, as is the matter of who has to foot the bill for the lengthy legal battle.
Integral asserts that AH breached a December 2019 settlement agreement that would have conveyed the land — which neighbors four of Integral Group’s mixed-income communities — to a 50-50 partnership between the development team and AH for around $21 million. The combined properties have been appraised at more than $60 million, Integral and AH officials told Atlanta Civic Circle in 2020.
The contract also said AH would have to pay the Integral team for its legal troubles.
AH, though, contests that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which funds the city’s housing authority, never signed off on the settlement. The federal agency said the land can only be conveyed at fair market value or commensurate public benefit.
On Jan. 10 and 11, AH added attorneys C.K. Hoffler, Robert Arrington, and Latif Oduola-Owoo to its legal squad. Agency officials did not address Atlanta Civic Circle’s inquiries regarding how they chose the new lawyers and who tapped them. AH CEO Eugene Jones said that’s a board decision.
Hoffler, though, said in a statement sent to Atlanta Civic Circle, “HUD did not and would not approve the proposed settlement, largely due to public interest concerns, including but not limited to AH receiving a fair price for the property.”
“AH remains open to resolving this matter with terms that meet HUD’s approval and is hopeful Integral will embrace settlement of the lawsuit to end the litigation it started,” she added.
In 2018, a Fulton County Superior Court Judge dismissed AH’s claims that sought to extract itself from the settlement agreement, court records show. Integral contends that AH has been intentionally delaying the case, according to court documents.
“After years of litigation and AH wasting multiple millions of taxpayers’ dollars in legal expenses and litigation costs to pursue a politically motivated lawsuit, we are headed back to court on the developer entities’ breach of contract claims after all of the Atlanta Housing claims were dismissed by the trial judge,” Wayne Kendall, the lead attorney for Integral, told Atlanta Civic Circle in a statement.
The upcoming legal saga could determine what happens with all that land, which has sat idle since for years, and whether AH — or, rather, HUD — is on the hook for the developer’s legal fees.
A potential resolution would also relieve a years-old logjam that’s prevented the development of hundreds, if not thousands, of housing units, and at a time when the city is more populous and expensive than ever.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ office said in a statement that he “will move aggressively and decisively to remove any and all barriers standing in the way of creating a more affordable Atlanta.”
Dickens is holding a press conference to discuss the case today at 11:30 a.m. at Atlanta City Hall. This story will be updated as more information is provided.
This story was reported in partnership with SaportaReport.