Taxpayer tab for Atlanta housing authority lawsuit tops $1 million

The Atlanta Housing Authority unveiled a new logo and branding for the agency on May 18, 2018. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/strubey@ajc.com

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The Atlanta Housing Authority unveiled a new logo and branding for the agency on May 18, 2018. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/strubey@ajc.com

The Atlanta Housing Authority has racked up more than $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees fighting a longtime Atlanta developer who helped establish the city’s mixed-income model for affordable housing.

Taxpayers are footing the bill for a high-powered legal team where at least one attorney is being paid $850 an hour, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.

The cost for the battle with developer Egbert Perry and entities related to the Integral Group are contained in invoices from mid-2017 to March of this year. The total legal fees involved in the Integral litigation are likely to be far higher, as the bills reviewed by the AJC and Channel 2 do not include fees accumulated over the past four months.

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Legacy Awards Gala honoree Egbert Perry. Photo: courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta

Legacy Awards Gala honoree Egbert Perry. Photo: courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta

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Legacy Awards Gala honoree Egbert Perry. Photo: courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta

AHA’s lawyers include seven based in metro Washington, D.C., at high-powered law firm Reed Smith. Partners Scott Bolden and Larry Sher were hired at rates of $850 and $830, respectively, per hour, records show.

The litigation has dogged AHA for two years, distracting the agency from its mission of providing housing to low-income residents, critics say. Amid leadership changes and lawsuits, AHA has failed to develop new affordable housing at a time when low-income residents have been squeezed by soaring housing costs.

“You have an affordable housing crisis and that money could be much better spent building affordable housing,” Perry said in an interview Thursday.

Perry helped develop the nationally recognized Atlanta model of replacing aging and dangerous public housing complexes with mixed-income communities.

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In late 2017, at the close of then-Mayor Kasim Reed’s second term, the city and AHA sued Perry and former AHA CEO Renee Glover alleging the pair entered a backroom real estate deal that gave away a large portion of housing authority land at a steep discount.

Perry and Glover have said the city completely misrepresented the terms of the deal and the suits were an attempt to destroy their respective reputations.

A judge later dismissed the AHA lawsuit against Perry’s companies, and in April 2018, the city withdrew its lawsuit against Perry and Glover.

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Dr. Christopher Edwards, chairman of Atlanta Housing Authority, speaks during a press conference Thursday, April 25, 2019, to announce a commitment of authority funds to benefit Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ pledge to boost affordable housing by $1 billion. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM

Dr. Christopher Edwards, chairman of Atlanta Housing Authority, speaks during a press conference Thursday, April 25, 2019, to announce a commitment of authority funds to benefit Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ pledge to boost affordable housing by $1 billion. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM

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Dr. Christopher Edwards, chairman of Atlanta Housing Authority, speaks during a press conference Thursday, April 25, 2019, to announce a commitment of authority funds to benefit Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ pledge to boost affordable housing by $1 billion. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM

Perry’s companies have since counter sued, seeking to enforce Integral and its partners’ contractual rights to the property. That litigation is pending.

In April, Perry also sued the law firm firm and attorneys who represented the city in its lawsuit against Perry.

Perry alleged the Los Angeles-based law firm, Paul Hastings, filed a bogus racketeering lawsuit against him to harm his company, a claim the firm has denied.

In a statement, Dr. Christopher Edwards, chairman of the AHA board, said the agency’s current leadership “has made numerous attempts to resolve” the dispute, which started under “a previous administration.”

"Recent talks with the Integral-related partnerships are encouraging and ongoinCity drops lawsuit accusing housing chief, developer of backroom dealg," he said.

Perry said he is ready and willing to resolve the complaint, but he’s also willing to go to trial.

“One way or another it will get settled,” Perry said.

MORE: Is Atlanta mayor’s housing pledge window dressing?

MORE: City drops lawsuit accusing housing chief, developer of backroom deal

AHA also is locked in a legal dispute with Glover over her legal bills. Earlier this year, the authority board approved a $265,000 settlement offer to Glover. As is a standard practice, AHA agreed to cover potential future legal expenses for Glover as part of her 2013 separation agreement from the agency.

But Glover pulled out of the settlement before the AHA board voted to approve it. Her attorney accused the agency of dragging its feet for months. The wrangling has left that legal dispute in limbo all while the lawyers for both sides remain on the clock.

“It is the goal of Atlanta Housing to get out of the lawsuit business, which is costly, distracting and diverts attention from our critical mission of expanding affordable housing,” Edwards said in the statement.

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