Willie “Sonny” McMahand served at the Charlotte Housing Authority in North Carolina as its director of property management, a role in which he saw the authority’s mixed-income, mixed-use public housing give residents a way out of the projects and back into the community.
The old public housing model, with its massive apartment complexes, isolates the poor, McMahand said. By putting residents all together in one community, an environment is created in which it is easy for criminals to prey on them.
The new model sprinkles public housing in with regular rentals, private homeowners and the businesses that serve them, he said, and that is the direction he would like to take Anniston’s public housing, he said.
“You want to create vibrant communities,” McMahand said. “Really good, planned communities.”
The details of how that will look in Anniston are something he still has to work out, but McMahand, who came to the Housing Authority in December, expects to have a full plan by the end of the year. Of course, he added, it will all depend on funding.
The Housing Authority is dependent on federal funding, which has been squeezed. All housing authorities have seen cuts over recent years, Anniston’s commissioners have said. At the same time, the Anniston authority’s aging properties have become difficult to manage and maintain, McMahand said, leading the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners to prioritize its capital improvements. This year, the authority plans to add showers in Constantine’s apartments and about 50 of Glen Addie’s 164 apartments will get air conditioners for the first time, McMahand said.
Renovating on a strict budget is a problem that housing authorities across the nation are facing.
In a teleconference on Thursday, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said the nation’s housing authorities manage more than 1 million apartments in need of $25.6 billion in renovations that have been delayed because of lack of funding.
But HUD is trying to create new resources for the authorities. Donovan announced that 68 housing authorities, including the Housing Authority of Bessemer, will receive awards through the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, a public-private partnership, to rehabilitate some of their units.
McMahand doesn’t know yet exactly how Anniston’s authority could fund the changes he would like to implement. Being new to the community, he needs to become more familiar with the people and resources here, he said.
McMahand has already met with the mayor and plans to participate in the city’s strategic planning process so the authority and the city can work together to redevelop the city’s ailing neighborhoods, he said.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he supports McMahand’s ideas and believes the housing authority has an important place at the planning table.
“The communities he serves are an integral part of this community,” Stewart said.
Stewart said he plans to create a task force made up of housing authority residents and residents of the wider community to research how other cities have brought their housing authorities in the the 21st century and incorporate those ideas into the strategic plan.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.