The Atlanta Housing Authority board on Wednesday evening voted to select a new permanent CEO to run an agency beset by internal turmoil for several years.
The board voted to offer the position to Gregory D. Johnson, a veteran affordable housing executive who is currently the CEO of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority. Pending his acceptance of the job, Johnson could join AHA within about six weeks.
The selection capped a national search by Goodwin Group that included about 100 initial candidates. That was whittled down to four finalists.
Four board members approved Johnson’s selection, two were absent, and board member Angela Ramson abstained, informing the board she was still deliberating.
“Mr. Johnson brings a combined 24 years of experience working in every department of a housing authority,” AHA Chairman Dr. Christopher Edwards said. “He has a history of resolving complex problems. Of course we are facing challenges we want to get resolved and move forward and get to building affordable housing.”
AHA has experienced a lot of change in its upper ranks and has been mired in litigation while taking criticism for failing to develop new affordable housing as rising rents have pummeled lower-income residents.
In April 2018, in the early days of her first year, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms demanded resignation letters from more than two dozen top city officials, including then-AHA CEO Catherine Buell. All were holdovers from the administration of Bottoms’ predecessor, Kasim Reed.
Buell did not issue a resignation letter, saying at the time that the authority’s board of commissioners, not the mayor, appoint her.
She left the authority later that month along with six other senior administration officials whose resignations Bottoms accepted. Buell ultimately reached a six-figure buy-out with the agency.
Reed previously warred with Buell’s predecessor Renee Glover, forcing Glover out in 2013 after nearly 20 years on the job.
Under Buell, and with the backing of Reed, AHA embarked on litigation against Glover and developer Egbert Perry over land deals dating back several years. Perry called the litigation frivolous and alleged Reed attempted to smear him.
One lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in April 2018 and a second was dropped by the city.
AHA remains in mediation with Glover concerning legal fees she accrued to defend herself. Perry's company, the Integral Group, meanwhile, countersued and that litigation is pending.
Edwards said Johnson is experienced in developing new affordable housing, both through partnerships with outside development groups and with having agencies he managed serve as their own developer.
AHA might have to take matters into its own hands if the private sector can’t move quickly enough, Edwards said.
“We want to be able to either incentivize our developers to do more and do it quicker,” Edwards said. “Or if they cannot do it for reasons — maybe they’re occupied doing other business — then we can’t let the people suffer. We we’ve got to get housing to folks and we have to do it quickly.”
Edwards thanked Brandon Riddick-Seals, who stepped in as interim CEO in May of last year, for helping to stabilize AHA. Riddick-Seals resigned from the board to step in as interim chief executive.
Edwards said the authority was at risk of losing a $30 million federal grant and $15 million in state grant funding when Riddick-Seals stepped in.
“This guy jumped into the fire for us,” Edwards said.