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Mayor Dickens Replaces 4 Of Atlanta Housing Board's 7 Commissioners

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has rapidly remade the Atlanta Housing Board of Commissioners in his push to address the city's pressing need for new affordable housing.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, speaking at a 2018 Bisnow event when he was a city councilman.

Four Atlanta Housing board members turned in their resignations, the mayor announced Monday afternoon, including Chair Dr. Christopher Edwards and Vice Chair Kirk Rich, a principal with the Atlanta office of the commercial real estate brokerage firm Avison Young.

Rich told Bisnow in an interview Monday evening he had a conversation with Dickens officials about the commission board needing a "new trajectory" with people handpicked by the new mayor. Rich said he didn't want to stand in the way of that effort and decided to resign over the weekend.

“I think the idea right now is to expedite. Even before today, it was all about expediting housing,” Rich said. “The Atlanta Housing Authority has some of the most talented people in that agency that I ever worked with. We're in great hands, it's just going to be a different board of commissioners. It's not about me or any commissioner. It's about the people we serve.”

Among the new members appointed to fill the vacancies are Doug Hooker, the former executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, who retired in March.

Commissioners Pat Dixon and Robert Highsmith Jr. also resigned from the AH board. Edwards — an orthopedic surgeon — was appointed to the agency in 2014 by then-Mayor Kasim Reed and voted as chairman by the board in 2017.

Aside from Hooker, Dickens also appointed three members of his mayoral transition team as commissioners, including Sarah Kirsch, who left her post as executive director of the Urban Land Institute's Atlanta office in March; Duriya Farooqui, a director on the boards of the New York Stock Exchange, the Intercontinental Exchange and InterContinental Hotels Group; and Larry Stewart, a senior principal with Slalom Consulting who also serves as a commissioner on the Atlanta City Council's Housing Commission.

Commissioners Rosalind Elliott, Sheila Harris and Tené Traylor will remain on the board, the mayor's office said.

Centennial Place apartments in Atlanta, one of the mixed-income communities run by Atlanta Housing.

“With housing prices on the rise and inflation cutting deeply into paychecks, there is no time to waste on our plan to build and preserve homes that our residents can afford,” Dickens said in a statement. “Atlanta Housing is an important partner in achieving our vision to build or preserve 20,000 units of affordable housing. My appointments to the board share my vision and have wide-ranging expertise and leadership experience in both the public and private sectors to get the job done.”

Under Edwards' leadership, AH invested $218M to help create more than 10,000 affordable units across 112 properties, spent more than $18M in down payment assistance for more than 770 first-time homebuyers between 2018 and 2021 and led the search to hire AH CEO Eugene Jones, according to the release.

At a Rotary Club of Atlanta meeting earlier Monday, Dickens hinted that he planned to shake up the AH board in his effort to build or preserve 20,000 affordable units in eight years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Dickens' appointments still need to be approved by the city council, according to the AJC.

“Atlanta Housing has not built anything in the past 12, 13 years and that’s not satisfying to me," Dickens said, per the AJC. "You can’t build 20,000 units of housing with the same mentality that you built zero (with) over the last 12 years."

Edwards, who will step down on May 24, wrote in his resignation letter that “Atlanta Housing is far more complex than I ever imagined and there were many times, including recently, that I had expressed my intention and desire to resign but stuck it out in order to achieve stability," the AJC reported. "We are now considered stable and in great position to deliver upon the mission.”

Windsor Stevens Holdings Managing Partner Rod Mullice, an ally of Dickens who was recently appointed to Atlanta transit agency MARTA's board of directors, said he is impressed with the new AH commissioners, especially Hooker, with whom he worked between 2002 and 2003 as city consultants on a major sewer upgrade.

“I can think of no better engineer and businessman to tackle the most pressing issue of our day,” Mullice said of Hooker to Bisnow Monday. “The mayor is a strong proponent of using market forces to help solve large community development issues. I can think of no other community development issue bigger than affordable housing at this particular point.”