Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has brokered a deal to resolve years of costly legal drama between the city’s housing authority and developer Integral Group over development rights to 81 acres of Atlanta Housing-owned land.
Dickens announced the settlement deal at an unexpected press conference Thursday morning, just as the legal battle between Atlanta Housing (AH) and Integral was approaching trial.
The same afternoon, the AH board of commissioners voted to move toward finalizing the deal, but after a long, fast-paced day packed with negotiation and deliberation, attorneys still have to draw up the paperwork to submit for board approval.
The newly announced settlement calls for AH to sell some of the 81 acres in question to Integral, while keeping the rest. If approved by the AH board, it still must be approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The details of the agreement — including the acreage breakdown and who pays the legal fees — were not discussed during the public portion of Thursday’s AH board meeting, although a source close to the negotiations told Atlanta Civic Circle that “a significant majority of the 81 acres would go to Integral and its partners” if the developer opts to buy the properties.
AH last month enlisted three additional attorneys for its legal team that’s been battling Integral since 2017 — a sign that the public housing agency was gearing up for the trial, scheduled to start March 22.
But this week, Dickens convened leaders from AH and Integral to figure out how to quash the beef and put them back on track to develop affordable housing, he announced at the press conference.
The dispute has centered around four AH-owned parcels totaling 81 acres of development-ripe land from former public housing projects Carver, Capitol, Grady, and Harris Homes. The parcels were once slated to evolve into mixed-use commercial and residential space, but their future has been unclear as the lawsuit, initially filed by AH in 2017, dragged on. Also unclear has been who will foot the bill for the lengthy legal battle.
Integral has asserted 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, according to court documents. The combined properties have been appraised at more than $60 million, Integral and AH officials told Atlanta Civic Circle in 2020.
The 2019 settlement agreement also said AH would pay the Integral team $1.8 million for its legal expenses.
Prior to Thursday’s developments, AH had contended that HUD, which funds AH, was to blame for the 2019 settlement agreement not being executed, because HUD officials never signed off on the deal. In a March 2020 letter, HUD approved the settlement but said federal cash could not be used to pay Integral’s $1.8 million legal expenses, according to court documents.
In mid-January, 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, but AH’s CEO, Eugene Jones, said this week it was a board decision.
Before Thursday’s settlement announcement, Hoffler said in a statement 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.”
Integral, though, claimed 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 on Wednesday.
The just-announced settlement between AH and Integral, if approved by the board, could spur the development of hundreds of critically needed affordable housing units, at a time when the city is more populous and expensive than ever.
“We need to be rebuilding housing, not tied up in litigation,” AH commissioner Kirk Rich said after the Thursday vote.
This story was reported in partnership with SaportaReport.