Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The Atlanta Housing Authority has received acclaim for transforming the inner city’s bleak housing projects. But it’s also come under fire for large salaries paid to its CEO Renee Glover and many top employees. Today, a former Atlanta mayor defends the AHA and its leader’s pay, saying the results speak for themselves. But a community activist questions where all the displaced residents of the old projects have gone, and adds that federal authorities or Congress must address wasteful spending on salaries.
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By Shirley Franklin
Recent media coverage about the salary of Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Renee Glover and the salaries of her senior staff led me to wonder, “Are questions and debates about ‘salary levels’ getting at the correct issue?”
The reported AHA salaries are larger than most public employee salaries, and I believe that invites us to look at a larger, more valuable question: “What is the taxpayer’s return on investment from these public employees?
When she left a successful law practice in 1994 to become chief executive of Atlanta’s public housing agency, Glover assumed responsibility for the city’s distressed public housing projects, a severely dysfunctional and bloated public agency, and 50,000 low-income citizens. At Glover’s arrival, AHA teetered on insolvency, and it lacked the confidence of its customers; federal, state and local governments, and the civic and business communities.
AHA had 1,217 employees with a payroll of $26 million when she arrived. Accounting for inflation, those employees today would have combined salaries of approximately $39 million.
Today, AHA employs 216 people with a payroll of $17.2 million. The decrepit, crime-ridden projects have been demolished and replaced with vibrant, healthy, mixed-income communities. The agency is financially strong.
Once known as the most violent city in America, Atlanta today is known for its thriving mixed-use, mixed-income communities. Scores of low-income children and their families now live in healthy neighborhoods, and many of these children are college-bound. With the assistance of AHA, young single mothers are working and creating careers at rates on par with all of Atlanta. Low-income seniors are living in comfort.
The first AHA redevelopment was on the site of Techwood/Clark Howell Homes near Georgia Tech. The new development, Centennial Place, boasts a model, academically superior, public elementary school. Last year, 49 of the first children who had started kindergarten at Centennial Place Elementary School went on to college, including Georgia Tech and many Ivy League schools — ending a cycle of poverty.
The model was quickly adapted to other former housing project sites. With assistance from the Cousins Foundation, AHA applied its model at East Lake, creating Drew Charter, which has become one of the top-performing schools in Atlanta. Private and philanthropic organizations have confidence in Glover and her team. Nearly $200 million of private investments has been made in the East Lake community alone.
This sort of transformation has spread to neighborhoods once blighted by their proximity to Atlanta’s notorious housing projects. Developers, other businesses and philanthropic organizations have invested more than $3 billion in and near new AHA-sponsored communities across the city.
Glover and her team oversee one of the largest asset management and real estate enterprises in Georgia. The results of their efforts are clear. AHA has gone from dreaded public liability to valued public asset.
Many people, myself included, believe AHA’s undeniable impact required professionals who are “best in class.” AHA’s investment in its staff and leadership has saved the city millions, has leveraged tens of millions in new investments, and has added to the city’s tax-base — and thousands of lives have been saved and vastly improved.
Great leaders and organizations create great results. Glover is a talented leader, and AHA has produced excellent, lasting results. Under Glover, AHA spends less, hires the best, and creates great positive outcomes for its customers and the city.
So do I believe taxpayers are getting a good return on the investment they’ve made in Glover and her team? The answer is an unqualified “yes.”
Shirley Franklin is a former mayor of Atlanta.
By Derrick Boazman
The mission of the Atlanta Housing Authority is to “develop, acquire, lease and operate affordable housing for low-income families.” Under the leadership of Renee Glover, public housing has been transformed.
There is much disagreement among housing advocates as to whether that transformation has benefited those low-income families. Heavy-handed and sometimes draconian methods were used to implement changes. For example, it is unclear where low-income families who were displaced have gone. Some hypothesize that some have descended into homelessness.
It is therefore ironic that an agency with such a mission is rife with employees who make such grossly inflated salaries. Should AHA have 22 employees who make more than the mayor of Atlanta ($147,000) and the governor ($139,000)? Not to mention the $325,000 salary of Housing Authority CEO Glover.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting has revealed that the Chicago Housing Authority, with a budget four times that of AHA, has only five employees who make more than $150,000. The housing authority of the city of Los Angeles also has a budget four times that of Atlanta’s and only 11 employees with salaries over $150,000. Miami’s housing authority, which has a budget roughly equal to that of Atlanta’s, has only one employee whose compensation exceeds $150,000.
More than 20 percent of AHA employees make more than $100,000.
How many needy homeless families could be given shelter if excessive fat-cat salaries were directed to AHA’s true mission?
This situation has resulted in congressional inquiries and requests for data about how AHA pays its employees.
The public has a right to know. What does AHA have to hide?
The argument that AHA salaries should be competitive with the private sector is unacceptable. Other housing authorities are able to function without such outrageous salary scales. The fact of the matter is, AHA is a public agency that operates with public money. AHA’s executives should not expect to make salaries comparable with the private sector.
Hopefully, this issue will not be politicized as a conflict for control of AHA between Mayor Kasim Reed and Glover. Atlantans in general and the poor people AHA is supposed to serve would not be well served by playing politics.
Rather, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development should follow through with its proposal to cap the salaries of housing authority employees. If HUD does not act, Congress should.
Derrick Boazman is a former Atlanta City Council member.