As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, there’s speculation about who will fill his cabinet. Among the names to emerge for the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms.
To those who support her in Atlanta, the position seemed like a natural fit.
Bottoms campaigned on a promise to bring affordable housing to the city. And over the last three years of her term, her goals have attracted glowing national attention. She now chairs the housing and community development committee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Todd Greene, executive director of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, reacting to her possible nomination.
The mayor appointed Greene, who was once vice president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve, to sit on the board for Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm. In his time there, he said, Bottoms has led policy changes that spread opportunities more evenly throughout the city.
He said Bottoms also understands the complexity of affordable housing, and importantly to Greene, she has empathy.
“So we need leadership that’s in touch with everyday Americans, and who understand their plight and are willing to do something to improve the outcomes for these families,” he said.
But the suggestion that Bottoms could take the leading position at HUD has confused some housing advocates locally.
Alison Johnson, executive director of Housing Justice League, wondered if the people hiring had done their research. If they did, she said, they would find how the city has failed to provide safe, affordable housing for its own residents.
“Let the record show. Our city has been gentrified. Our Black folks have been displaced out of our communities,” Johnson said.
City-supported projects like the BeltLine have been instrumental to that displacement, she said. At the same time, she said low-income and working-class people are stuck in neglected, unhealthy housing around Atlanta–including in properties funded by HUD.
“So I’m just having a real issue; if we can’t combat this on a local level, what are we to expect on a federal and national level?” Johnson said.
Other names to make the list for HUD secretary include National Low Income Housing Coalition President Diane Yentel and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.
Mayor Bottoms’ office said she remains focused on Atlanta and looks forward to working with the Biden administration on systemic issues facing the city’s communities.