Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert has appointed a new chair for the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) which got me thinking about what it takes to be a good public housing authority leader.
The new DHA board chair is Terdema Ussery, whose day job is president and CEO of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.
The Dallas Morning News, which thankfully seems to care about the fate of the DHA, has applauded the choice of Ussery. In an editorial in Friday’s paper the DMN claims Ussery is a “savvy manager who seems capable of bringing much-needed credibility and strategic direction to an agency filled with old-school thinkers and career bureaucrats.”
DHA executive director Ann Lott was fired from her job recently after several bad HUD audits over financial management and in the wake of a controversy with board members and civic leaders over her refusal to sell off a downtown public housing development to private investors eager to use the land for other purposes. While there have been public denials from city hall that the politics of the sale of this public housing development led to Lott’s firing, the Dallas Morning News editorial page, never insensitive to the interests of Dallas’ political powerful, noted in today’s editorial that one failure of the DHA that its new board chair would correct is “…opting to hold onto properties instead of forging public-private partnerships to make better use of assets.”
Returning to my original question about what makes a good leader for a public housing authority I have one simple test — the ability to discern and act of what’s in the best interest of the 60,000 residents of the housing authority. Now this might sound absurdly simplistic but has seldom been the guiding consideration at the DHA.
From the inception of public housing in Dallas the principal goal was to use public housing to promote the interests of the political elites. Want proof? Well take a look at the history of the DHA that we have published on our web site. Public housing came to Dallas as a tool of the city fathers to steer African-American population growth away from white neighborhoods.
This is also a fact acknowledged in federal court desegration cases. Unfortunately, DHA leadership has either opposed or has been thwarted by city hall and wealthy white neighborhood associations in complying with court orders to build new public housing in white North Dallas neighborhoods. Now the major issue confronting the new leadership at DHA is said by the local daily newspaper to be selling valuable downtown public housing, located in a high opportunity area near good jobs to private developers. Ask any public housing resident where this rates on their list of concerns and you will get a different view. But from its inception down to today, DHA has seldom been operated in the best interests of public housing residents.
I do not know Mr. Ussery, although he apparently is a neighbor of mine in the North Dallas neighborhood of Preston Hollow. I wish him well. And I offer him this piece of advice to be a good leader for the housing authority: Listen to your tenants and act in their best interests. Perhaps the place to start is to build some new affordable housing in high opportunity neighborhoods like ours. I think you will agree with me and our fellow neighbor Mayor Leppert that Preston Hollow is a great place to live. Finding low income families a good place to live should be a higher priority than making some private developers happy by selling them public housing assets.