Ann Lott, executive director of the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) has resigned under pressure from members of the housing authority’s board of directors.
I did not know Ms. Lott well but I know she had a reputation for standing up, on some important occasions, for the residents of pubic housing. Folks who know tell me that she bucked the political powers in Dallas over their push to shift funds from the poorest public housing residents to a more politically popular home ownership program pushed by the city housing bureaucracy and political leaders.
Housing advocates cheered her courageous stand against the then DHA board chair who tried to get her to agree to sell the Little Mexico public housing development to politically connected developers who wanted the desirable downtown location. Housing authority directors in other Texas cities have consistently caved into political pressure to give up desirable public housing developments in downtown neighborhoods. Ann Lott did not cave.
Ms. Lott’s personal story is compelling. She began her career as a management clerk at the housing authority 23 years ago and rose through the ranks.
In the wake of a HUD Inspector general’s audit, things seriously began to unravel for her however. A host of complex but serious accounting problems have been reported in the Dallas Morning News. Political fissures within the Dallas African-American political power structure created an angry polarization around the question of Ms. Lott’s future.
Faced with a possible disciplinary suspension at the hands of the DHA board of directors Ms. Lott chose to resign, cushioned by a $90,000 severance package.
Now the controversy must move beyond Ms. Lott and refocus on the type of leadership that is needed at DHA. The welfare of the tenants and not the fate of the executive director must become the major focus of the board.
Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert will probably now appoint new leadership to the DHA board that will hire the next director. One important thing the mayor should do is insure there are strong, representative voices of the tenants of public housing on the board. Mayor Leppert must resist the temptation to load up the board with business leaders who will be subject to peer pressures to sell of DHA’s most valuable properties to their friends and colleagues.
The last time Ms. Lott’s job was on the line rumors circulated that the favored replacement would come from within the leadership of the city’s housing department. That would have been a disaster. The City of Dallas Housing Department is among the poorest performers in the state and it’s leadership has demonstrated an antipathy, if not a hostility, to using public funds to provide for the housing needs of the poor.
The Mayor must also resist appointing one community faction or another to control of the board. The board must focus on the welfare of the tenants and not on community power politics. The executive director position at DHA should not be a political prize for one political faction or the other.
Extending back to it’s beginning, DHA has been crippled by racism that has dictated all the major decisions of the authority. If you want proof of this statement, check out our website The Public Housing Debate in Texas.
The recent appointment of African American leadership to DHA, including Alfonso Jackson and later Ann Lott were important steps in overcoming this racism. But this alone is clearly not sufficient to overcome the 70 year legacy of segregated housing and racist neglect of minority family public housing developments.
The job of the housing authority director in Dallas is to take on the problems of class prejudice, race prejudice, and poverty using an aging and vastly inadequate infrastructure of public housing, built specifically to advance the racial apartheid values of generations of previous Dallas leaders.
The next DHA director will step into one hell of a difficult job.