Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I'm Writing "Lessons Learned"

We have a crisis in housing, actually several crises, and as people as far apart on the political spectrum as Milton Friedman and Rahm Emanuel have noted, crisis can lead to opportunity and not, necessarily, to disaster.

It’s the opportunity I intend to focus on in this series of newsletters titled “Lessons Learned.” Why should you care? Because the crises I mentioned impact you. Many of you know me. Those who don’t – I’m Renee Lewis Glover, CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority. To summarize my credentials, the ones that count in this discussion, Atlanta was the first city to build public housing in the United States, and within the next few months we’ll be the first city to eliminate our public housing campuses.

I presided over that transformation. There are many, many lessons contained in that historic arc, and many people refer to what we’ve learned as the “Atlanta model.” I’m not so arrogant as to think our model can be applied without modification to other cities – but with great humility, I believe our experience can help other cities confront their own housing issues.

Let me phrase it a different way. The current economic recession’s leading edge had a lot to do with housing – sub-prime and predatory lending, overbuilding, mortgage-backed securities, etc. At the same time, an unrelated turning point is being reached by many housing authorities in America. Housing projects – most dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, and many others built before World War II – are functionally obsolete. They are beyond the point where they can be repaired and repainted. More important, even if they could be repaired and repainted, that in my judgment would be a dire mistake.

The projects are sociologically and spiritually obsolete. They no longer serve the purpose for which they were intended – to give families a boost out of poverty. Instead, as laws and policies changed, the projects have become poverty traps that ensnare families into never-ending failure.
So we see this convergence of critical housing issues – at the same time that we have a new federal administration, one that is more inclined to listen to cities than its predecessor. That’s part of the opportunity I mentioned. The federal government can become an energetic ally in reinvigorating the nation’s urban areas. But we must sharpen our messages. Do we want to perpetuate systems that are demonstrably broken? Or, do we push, and push hard, for assistance to create better lives for citizens?

That’s why I’m dispatching these newsletters to friends and colleagues around the nation.

What I’m not doing is preaching. I hope that this newsletter develops into a vigorous roundtable of voices exploring solutions for our cities.


  1. I look forward to these lessons, Rene, and thanks for your leadership to date.

  2. The lessons that are learned from the past always enhance the quality of leadership for the future. BRAVO. Continue to move forward!

  3. Renee,

    I applaud you and the courageous step to go public with the lessons learned. Have you seen the proposal I submitted to address the crises?

  4. I am a housing provider in Atlanta and yes there is acrisis of housing in Atlanta. Atlanta Housing Authority should be more of a solution rather than a problem. It has become incredibly difficult to house Housing Choice participants due to the high turnover and ineffeciency in the Housing Choice Department. These issues need to be addressed quickly before more housing providers pull away from housing participants.

  5. I often point to your success as a model of public housing revitalization. In response, the media has been publishing complaints, like the one from Anonymous on August 21st, asking "where did the rest of the people go?". We need statistics to show that thousands of families were not abandoned, a fear many public housing residents in other cities still have; can you publish these statistics, and offer other responses we can direct critics to?

  6. I am also a housing provider in Atlanta; I can not state it any better than a previous post, "Atlanta Housing Authority should be more of a solution rather than a problem. It has become incredibly difficult to house Housing Choice participants due to the high turnover and inefficiency in the Housing Choice Department."

  7. Renee:

    Having had the pleasure and opportunity to work with you and your staff , as a Planner & Architect, on several successful revitalization efforts over the years, I applaud your announced "Lessons Learned" efforts and now is a great time to act.

    In our recent experiences, we are seeing housing authorities in several city jurisdictions throughout the country either contemplating or, have already begun large remedial repair and repaint campaigns to projects that are, no doubt sociologically and spiritually obsolete.

    We realize first hand how vitally important it is for other cities to have a more realistic big picture and unabridged understanding of the functional obsolescence of old prototypical Housing projects. More importantly however, they should learn how to embrace and put into practice their own comprehensive strategies in eliminating poverty traps that ensnare families into never ending failure. Hopefully your "Lessons Learned" segment will be an impetus for a better understanding and action.

  8. I regret to deal with this issue on this blog but we are not getting heard:
    We have been very pleased with the Housing Authority in Atlanta for years until recently. We recently have had the rent stopped on 2 properties with no notice from the housing authority because the tenant was "under housed". One of the tenants is still living in one of the homes and the other is still moving out. It is Sept 15th and the rent stopped without warning on September 1st. We have called repeatedly for two weeks and have been assured that Shelton Hayes would respond to us and rectify the matter. No return phone call. We really miss how the Housing Authority was run only a few months ago. We have over 20 properties with the authority and have never been treated this unfairly before. We need the rent on every property to endure this housing crisis. Please call us at 404-918-9519 to resolve this matter.


    Our drama continues and apparently no one actually reads this blog or cares at the Housing Authority. There is not a level high enough within the Housing Authority to get satisfaction. We have been paid for November on one of our properties now but we are still waiting for September and October to get paid after repeated requests, promises and "Good intentions". The lack of organization within the Housing Authority is astounding. We have left messages, have left blog posts, have spoken to liasons, and people of authority regarding the mistakes in billing and we ar still waiting for our rent. You can probably tell I am frustrated. SOMEBODY please take the initiative to resolve this issue!!! Please call us at 404-918-9519 to get the rent paid.

  10. Atlanta Housing continues to turnover staff, but they are having the same management issues. Maybe you need to look out side the Authority for help in how to manage a successfull orginization. You can build all the new apartments you want; but your ability to manage, pay bills, and maintain your properties SUCKS!!!!!!


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