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.