Deal could give boost to affordable housing in Atlanta

February 3, 2022 Atlanta - Mayor Andre Dickens announces the settlement with Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry (not pictured) and the Atlanta Housing Authority President Eugene Jones (not pictured) during a press conference at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, February 3, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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February 3, 2022 Atlanta - Mayor Andre Dickens announces the settlement with Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry (not pictured) and the Atlanta Housing Authority President Eugene Jones (not pictured) during a press conference at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, February 3, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Atlanta’s housing authority and a prominent developer have reached an agreement to resolve a years-long legal dispute over more than 75 acres of prime city-owned land, Mayor Andre Dickens announced Thursday.

The agreement could be a major victory in the city’s effort to unlock more land for affordable housing units — one of Atlanta’s most urgent needs and a major promise Dickens made on the campaign trail last year.

Few details of the settlement were disclosed, although Dickens and Atlanta Housing Authority President Eugene Jones hinted that the city would retain ownership over some of the land, and some would go to the developers who acquired it years ago.

It is unclear if the developers would build market-rate housing, affordable, or some combination of the two.

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February 3, 2022 Atlanta - Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry speaks during a press conference at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Mayor Andre Dickens announced the settlement at City Hall with Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry and the Atlanta Housing Authority President Eugene Jones. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

February 3, 2022 Atlanta - Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry speaks during a press conference at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Mayor Andre Dickens announced the settlement at City Hall with Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry and the Atlanta Housing Authority President Eugene Jones. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
February 3, 2022 Atlanta - Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry speaks during a press conference at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Mayor Andre Dickens announced the settlement at City Hall with Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry and the Atlanta Housing Authority President Eugene Jones. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Appearing with Dickens and Jones at the announcement was Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry, who once engaged in a public feud with Mayor Kasim Reed over the land. The two filed lawsuits and counter suits against each other, while waging a sharp-tongued war of words.

At one point, Reed threatened that if Perry did not give up the land — valued at an estimated $90 million — that he would never work with the city again.

“Atlanta Housing and Integral Group have reached an understanding in this matter,” Dickens said. “With this settlement, Integral and the developers will immediately return to the business of fulfilling the vision that residents, developers, and Atlanta Housing has had and agreed to years ago.

”For the city of Atlanta, we need to consummate deals that help move us forward in the development of affordable housing.”

The Housing Authority board passed a resolution in support of the settlement. It will officially be approved once final documents are delivered to the board at a later date and after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development signs off.

Board member Robert Highsmith, a Reed appointee, said he is grateful to Dickens’ leadership.

“I think we’re in an excellent position given all that hard work,” Highsmith said.

The disputed land, some of which is in the heart of downtown, was once home to the former public housing projects Capitol, Carver, Grady, and Harris homes, which were all demolished. A partnership of developers, including Integral, won rights to develop the land more than a decade ago.

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A legal battle over land’s future started in 2017. A settlement was proposed in February 2020 that would have surrendered the agency’s control of the land to Integral for $22 million and forced AHA to pay $1.8 million for Perry’s legal fees.

The board rejected the deal days later, after some housing advocates said those subsidized units would still be too costly for the agency’s typical lower-income residents.

Dickens also announced Thursday that he is forming an affordable housing sub-cabinet focused exclusively on the issue. The mayor, who took office a month ago, set a goal of constructing 20,000 affordable units over eight years. He said that could be accomplished, in part, by building on more vacant, city-owned land.

“We’re ready to get to work,” Perry said.

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WHY IT MATTERS

The settlement could be a major victory in the city’s effort to unlock more land for affordable housing units — one of Atlanta’s most urgent needs and a major promise Dickens made on the campaign trail last year.