Mayor Bottoms names Atlanta’s first chief housing officer

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Tuesday announced the appointment of the city's first chief housing officer, a new cabinet position tasked with helping the mayor fulfill one of her most ambitious campaign pledges.

Terri Lee, a well-respected senior city executive and current deputy commissioner in the city's Department of Planning and Community Development, will serve as quarterback to the city's various affordable housing initiatives. Bottoms campaigned on a promise of creating a $1 billion public-private affordable housing fund to spur new housing options for lower income residents and preserve existing affordable units.

Lee’s role is still being defined. She will have a staff, and report to city Chief Operating Officer Richard Cox.

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Atlanta finds itself in a historic building and growth spurt, with population up 9 percent from 2010 to 2018, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. But the development boom has skewed heavily toward luxury housing, with many older developments replaced by more expensive options.

Though the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) is gearing up to launch six new mixed-income developments, the city has received criticism for falling behind the latest development wave.

A task force of 150 business and civic leaders, dubbed HouseATL, created a list over the summer of two-dozen recommendations, including the chief housing officer post.

Lee was on the advisory group. When her name was called Tuesday, her fellow task force members gave her a standing ovation.

Goals identified by the task force include the creation or preservation of more than 20,000 affordable housing units over the next eight to 10 years. The group, funded by a grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, suggested targeting the housing needs of different income levels with a mix of private developer investment, public funds and philanthropic dollars.

“We will make sure we align them with what our capabilities are as a city and check them off one-by-one,” Bottoms said of those recommendations.

Bottoms credited John Ahmann, who runs the Westside Future Fund for developing the $1 billion housing pledge during the waning days of the campaign — a promise she acknowledges will be challenging to meet.

“I thought he was insane, and it was a pretty insane campaign and we had to promise some insane things,” she said. “I’m so glad that I will not be a liar.”

It’s unclear how much of the mayor’s pledge has been reached so far in her first year. A request for that information was not immediately fulfilled.

The city currently has three outside agencies — AHA, Invest Atlanta and the Beltline — which have affordable housing missions, and the city’s planning department also has a housing division that Lee once managed.

There’s risk the role could become another layer of city bureaucracy.

Bottoms said Lee’s role will be to ensure all city agencies and departments align to meet a common goal, something that hasn’t always happened.

Lee is a city hall veteran, having served two previous administrations, according to her bio. She joined the city’s planning department in 2004 during former Mayor Shirley Franklin’s tenure. Under Mayor Kasim Reed she worked as deputy commissioner of planning, a position she’s held during the first 10 months of the Bottoms administration.

Lee is a graduate of Grambling State University, with a master’s in public policy and administration from Jackson State University in Mississippi.

She told Bottoms she “will follow the leadership you set forth to ensure Atlanta really is a city for everybody.”

“I cannot tell you how excited I am,” she said. “It’s an awesome opportunity.”