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Clear Of City Lawsuits, Integral Plans To Resume Mixed-Income Housing Projects

For The Integral Group, it may be time to dust off plans for more mixed-income housing in Atlanta.

The Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry in 2017

The Atlanta development firm is considering further development of its mixed-income housing program with the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Housing Authority after the city dropped its lawsuit against the firm and its principal. At the heart of the suit was a co-development agreement between the parties forged in the 1990s.

“It's too early to tell [when we'll start]. We obviously haven't been doing much in the city because we chose to stay out of it,” Integral CEO Egbert Perry said. “But we will continue to develop the sites.”

The reversal of fortune comes not only after the city dropped its lawsuit, but also in the wake of the resignation of former AHA CEO Catherine Buell.

The tide further turned in Integral's favor earlier this month when a Fulton County Superior Court judge dismissed the AHA's claims that a 2011 agreement to sell 79 acres of public housing land to Integral was invalid, The Saporta Report reported, bringing a possible resolution to legal actions pending between the AHA and Integral.

Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Catherine Buell speaking
at Bisnow's Atlanta Affordable Housing event in 2017.

While Perry said he has not spoken to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, he said her decision to drop the city's lawsuit against Integral, himself and former AHA director Renee Glover, who led the organization at the time the agreement was drafted, was an “important move and gesture.”

“Actions spoke much louder than any words would,” he said.

Calls to the city were not returned as of press time. The AHA is in the process of conducting a national search for a new CEO.

In the 1990s — especially in the run-up to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta — Glover and Perry, along with other partners, transformed more than a dozen public housing projects in Atlanta into mixed-income communities that still thrive today.

The move was based on a thesis Perry and Glover shared: that concentrating poverty through public housing enclaves did more harm than good. Mixing low-income families with people paying market rates in the same complex would not only break up often crime-ridden housing projects, but also promote a more stable lifestyle and upward mobility, they believed.

The Centennial Place apartments in Atlanta

With the help of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the parties began with Centennial Place, tearing down a former public housing project and building a mixed-use community that included a public charter school. Today, the AHA runs four mixed-income housing complexes with more than 2,000 units, 60% of which are designated as affordable, Perry said.

“We created housing in an environment that was no longer stigmatized as public housing, but in fact was great housing that had some affordability integrated into it,” Perry previously told Bisnow. “Prior to our model, all the housing authority could do was take the money from HUD, build or renovate the housing units, and that money is gone forever.”

During Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's administration, questions began to arise about the arrangement with Integral to continue the mixed-income housing program with AHA.

Then in September of 2017, the AHA sued Integral to nullify the agreement. Three months later, the city followed with its own lawsuit against Integral, Perry and Glover — who ran AHA for nearly 20 years until 2013 — over claims that the deal would allow Integral to purchase the city land at windfall pricing. 

During the public back-and-forth, Integral officials said that, per the agreement, the AHA will maintain half the ownership interest in the 79 acres and a half interest in any future development by Integral and its partners.

"All the while, AHA assumes none of the development or financial risk," Integral officials previously stated. "All of the 'windfall,' as such term is characterized by the AJC and parroted by Reed, is shared equally between the AHA and the developers, with Integral being one of three private development partners."

Perry said he was unsure of the timetable for Integral to move forward on future mixed-income projects in the city. But he said that once completed, up to half of the total units at the new projects will be geared toward low-income families.

Most recently, Integral has been focused on developing Assembly, its mixed-use megaproject at the former General Motors plant in Doraville that is now home to a movie studio and the regional headquarters for Simmons Serta Bedding Co.

“Our model has proven itself over more than two decades,” Perry said in an email. "Further, our introduction of mixed-income housing into real estate development in Atlanta is something in which we take great pride. It is 'responsible' residential development."