Alan Green Changing Culture At Hartford Housing Authority
March 25, 2009
On a crisp, cold March day, Alan Green looks out his office window and sees the old Rice Heights projects, revamped from the days he lived there into clusters of single-family homes.
When the train whistle blows on the hour, it triggers memories in the 63-year-old Hartford native of a place that nurtured families. In the early 1950s, he and his dad would take walks and watch trains blow by. A man in a wood shack would crank the crossing gates down to stop traffic.
Dads were ever-present in the neighborhood, organizing basketball and football games. Or taking a bed sheet and pinning it on a brick wall and using a projector to show cartoons to the neighborhood kids.
When it was time for his family to move on from the Heights, Green, now the executive director of the Hartford Housing Authority, said he cried.
"I made friends there that I still have today," said Green, reflecting Tuesday as he entered his 15th month on the job.
Dads and discipline are what made public housing nurturing environments back in the day. Today, both are often lacking.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I can recapture [the past]," Green said. "But we have to do more than just build housing; we have to look at ways to redevelop communities." Before he could put his full focus on the tenants who live in the 4,000 units he oversees, Green has had to turn his attention to fixing a dysfunctional agency.
When he was hired in January 2008, Green inherited a mess. There was a public hissing match between the previous executive director, Lance Gordon, and the former board of directors, and accusations by Gordon of malfeasance and possible corruption. Then there was a mysterious memo purportedly signed by Gordon's predecessor, John Wardlaw, that seemingly gave a developer rights to the housing authority's north Hartford properties. Adding more drama to the intrigue were Wardlaw's vehement denials that he signed the document.
Wardlaw, who retired in 2005 after 28 years, died last year. There is a federal investigation into the signature issue. A developer recently filed an injunction against the authority to prevent it from taking bids to redevelop the Nelton Court projects until there is resolution over the validity of the signature.
All the problems within the authority are rooted in money, land and who ultimately controls it. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to redevelop old public housing at Westbrook Village and Bowles Park. The authority's operating budget is $30.5 million.
Green, who has previously run a foundation and a business, knew where he needed to start if he wanted to gain control of an imploding75-employee organization.
"You've got to understand the money," he said. "You've got to know where it's coming from and you have to know where it's going. And I brought someone in whom I have tremendous confidence and trust," said Green, who's cleaning house in the upper ranks.
Roy Boling, a veteran financier, was brought in as the chief financial officer. He was among four new faces brought in to shore up legal affairs, human services and real estate development.
So, with its new executive director, new leadership and a new board of directors, the authority is beginning to get its legs back. Recently it reached an agreement with Gordon, who sued the previous board for wrongful firing. The authority's insurance company will pay Gordon and his lawyer a combined $210,000.
Green wants to change the culture for those living in public housing. But first he's changing the culture for those working for public housing.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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