As COVID-19 Worsens Housing Crisis, Public Housing’s “Mr. Fixit” Shares Insights in New Book

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Eugene Jones Only Official That’s Led Housing Authorities in Nine Major Cities

I think that the legacy that Gene has built at CHA is to re-invent, rethink, and re-imagine what a housing authority can be.

As COVID-19 exacerbates America’s affordable housing crisis, one of its foremost public housing leaders, Eugene Jones, will soon release a book that shares his unique insights drawn from 35 years of experience successfully leading housing authorities in eight U.S. major cities and one in Canada -- the only U.S. housing official to realize that milestone.

Due to his success in reviving public housing and communities in several cities, Jones has been called America’s public housing “Mr. Fixit” -- the title, not coincidentally, of his new book. Now serving as CEO and President of the Atlanta Housing Authority, Jones, who describes himself as “not just a housing authority official but a community builder,” has headed housing agencies in such large cities as Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Toronto – engendering turnarounds where he inherited average deficits of $200 million dollars.

Jones, in total, has been responsible for building over $3 billion of housing developments during his 35-year career, including leading the financing structures for these developments.

Reinventing What a Housing Authority Can Be

Before assuming his current Atlanta position, Jones served, from 2015-2019, as CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), North America’s second largest public housing agency. Upon Jones’ departure, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered high praise for Jones’ sweeping impact:

“The real measure of what Gene, the Board and his team have done in Chicago is that under his stewardship, public housing was reconfigured from building housing to building a community….“I think that the legacy that Gene has built at CHA is to re-invent, rethink, and re-imagine what a housing authority can be.”

Risk That COVID+Housing Crisis May Unleash Perfect Storm

Jones’ new book is particularly timely because America’s affordable housing crisis, which long predates the COVID pandemic, may be facing a perfect storm that, absent governmental actions, could turn a housing crisis in many cities into a housing disaster, as so many tenants are now unable to pay rents, and may face eventual evictions and homelessness.

With COVID now ravaging the economy and generating Great Depression-level unemployment, research indicates that Congress “must provide no less than $100 billion to ensure housing stability for the lowest-income renters during and after the pandemic.”

Even before COVID, it was estimated that there was a shortage of “7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for the nation’s 11.2 million extremely low-income renters.”

Throwing Money at Public Housing Problem Not Enough; Holistic Approach Needed

Jones strongly supports greater funding to address the housing crisis, but just as strongly warns that just “throwing money” at the problem is misguided. Constrained by limited public dollars, we must marshal our existing resources more creatively, foster greater public-private partnerships, allow for increased administrative flexibility, and embrace an “holistic” approach to overall policy – “melding together different aspects of what we’re providing with housing, transportation, education and health.”

“To make a house a home requires education, with a focus on technology, vocational training, steady work, more than a minimum wage, safety, childcare, and access to the full spectrum of healthcare,” Jones explains. “But fundamentally, we must see access to affordable housing as an absolute prerequisite to the economic and social well-being of the individual and the community at large.

“Nobody can get ahead without an affordable roof over their head, and neither can their communities.”

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