Eugene Jones, Jr., President & CEO of Atlanta Housing, was the keynote speaker at the Feb. 7 Transform Westside Summit. Jones began his segment jokingly stating his surprise at the fact that people in Atlanta actually made it out the house in 30 degree weather. “You all don’t do good in the cold,” he says to the laughter of the audience. “You darn sure don’t do good in snow.”
Jones went on the pay respect to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, City of Atlanta employees, and Atlanta Housing staff before opening up about his family. Speaking about his son who is currently in jail on murder charges, he emphasizes, “I tell this to people because it’s two things: I want to be transparent; and don’t underestimate how someone looks and acts because you really don’t know what they’re going through.”
Jones spoke on the highlights he’s experienced in his overall impressive history leading housing authorities within the United States and Canada. “I worked in Toronto. I was the first American, the first African American, to run the largest housing authority in Canada.” Jones then expressed his passion for Section 3, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s program which focuses heavily on investing in low-income individuals and businesses that employ them. “When I was in Chicago, I took it to another level—I put it on steroids,” he says. “What happened was we had an opportunity to really prove that we were dedicated for employment and also building businesses who were Section 3, who deserved it and could get work from Chicago Housing Authority.” Conveying a great sense of pride in his work in Chicago, he states, “I established a program called the Jobs Program the second year I started, and I created a Section 3 office that no one has across this country. I made millionaires that first year because I left $50 million specifically for Section 3 businesses. Last year I let out $70 million.”
When speaking on the prospects of achieving a similar vision for low-income people and businesses in Atlanta, Jones acknowledges, “You almost lost me because I almost went to New York, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I came here to Atlanta.” Jones assures the audience and critics alike that when it comes to seeing the benefits of a boost in Section 3 investment, “just wait on it because it’s going to come, and it’s going to be very beneficial. You’re going to be very happy with the programs we come out with at Atlanta Housing.”
The CEO gave his closing remarks on the realities everyday Americans face regarding the lack of affordable housing and the tough decisions that arise out of that lack. “Housing costs are off the chain,” he says, “and everyone knows that in this room. Families are forced to cut back on the basic necessities such as food, healthcare, and clothing.” Jones goes on to say, “that’s what’s critical and that’s what’s not being addressed in America in my opinion.” Perhaps his most moving point of the morning came when he addressed the issue of homelessness saying, “the homeless population is not going to go away because we’re not doing it correctly. Everyone is piecemealing it. Everyone’s doing great things but we’re not doing anything holistically… because we need all our resources all together with people who do this everyday and figure it out. That’s the only way we’re going to combat homelessness, and that’s the only way we’re going to combat affordable housing.”
View Eugene Jones’ keynote presentation.
Read this 2019 AJC article for more on Eugene Jones, Jr.