HUD Sec. Castro hails Atlanta housing development as national model

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro returned Wednesday to Atlanta, where he praised the city’s work in pioneering successful mixed-income housing developments.

He spoke at an event on federal housing policies that included Mayor Kasim Reed, former Mayor Shirley Franklin and one-time Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Renee Lewis Glover, among others. In the early 1990s, Glover and developer Egbert Perry helped transform a distressed public housing project into the Centennial Place mixed-income community. Centennial was the first recipient of HUD’s HOPE VI grant and became a national model for urban revitalization.

Castro, who is seen as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, credited President Barack Obama for his work in incorporating housing, education, transit and related programs in a broad neighborhood revitalization initiative. As part of that effort, Castro visited Atlanta in September to award a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant to the city.

“The great thing is the work that was done at Centennial is a precursor to all of that,” Castro said at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. “It really set the stage.”

Castro’s visit was in celebration of the 50th anniversary of HUD, which began under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Glover, Franklin, Perry and Georgia Tech economist Thomas “Danny” Boston took turns recounting the challenges in creating and studying Centennial Place, which required demolishing the former Techwood and Clark Howell Homes.

“The biggest challenge we saw was the absence of political will to do the heavy lifting, because whichever public official stood in the bulls-eye of this Renaissance would be subject to significant vilification,” Perry said.

Former Mayor Bill Campbell — who was preparing for the 1996 Olympics at the time — supported the project, but played a behind-the-scenes role. Franklin said Centennial served as the blueprint for the revitalization of East Lake.

Reed gave opening remarks at the event, which also included Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust. The panel discussion marked a rare meeting of Reed and Franklin, whose relationship has been strained in recent years.

Glover — whose $325,000 base salary at AHA became the subject of national scrutiny —is considered a leading expert in housing and community development. She resigned from the authority in 2013 amid turmoil with Reed.

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