The head of the Miami-Dade County public housing agency in Florida has been tapped to lead the Housing Authority of New Orleans as it returns to local governance after more than a decade under federal control.
Gregg Fortner, a New Orleans native, was selected following a national search by a special advisory panel put together by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He has signed a two-year contract that begins July 7 and includes an option for a one-year extension.
Fortner will receive an annual salary of $200,000 to start.
“He is highly qualified with decades of experience leading other public housing authorities across the country, and we look forward to his leadership as HANO takes this important step forward,” Landrieu said in a statement.
Fortner has been executive director of the Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development Department, one of the country’s largest public housing agencies, since 2009. It has a $435 million annual budget and a portfolio that includes 9,000 public housing units and 15,000 Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, according to HANO.
During his tenure, Miami has spent millions of dollars in private and public funds, including U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Hope VI grants, to redevelop the city’s aging public housing stock.
Fortner previously was executive director of the San Francisco Housing Authority and deputy executive director and chief administrative officer for the Oakland Housing Authority, according to a biography provided by HANO.
In New Orleans, Fortner will oversee nine housing developments containing more than 3,500 units. About half of the units in the active portfolio, 1,812 units, are public housing. The rest are either affordable or market-rate apartments. The housing authority also provides rental vouchers to about 17,700 families through its Section 8 rental-assistance program.
Fortner also will manage a staff of 260 people and preside over the redevelopment of the Iberville housing project, HANO’s largest future development project.
Fortner and a seven-member board of commissioners will replace Marilyn O’Sullivan and Willie Garrett, HUD employees who took over temporarily as the agency’s administrative receiver and lone board member in April. The duo replaced David Gilmore, whose contract expired.
Gilmore, an outside contractor, had served as the agency’s director and one-man board since 2009. He was the latest in a series of appointed receivers since HANO was taken over by the federal government in February 2002 after years of poor management.
The feds took control after finding HANO was in substantial default on its annual funding contract with HUD and after HUD, HANO and the city repeatedly tried and failed to improve the local operation.
At the time, the agency had struggled to commit millions of dollars in federal grants, failed to revitalize its crumbling developments and operated in other ways HUD found deficient.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Landrieu signed a transition agreement in May authorizing the formal handoff of HANO to local control.
“After years of financial instability, recent HUD audits have shown the Housing Authority of New Orleans is now more stable than it’s ever been,” Donovan said in a statement announcing Fortner’s arrival.
Fortner and the new board will preside over their first meeting next month. Four members of the seven-member panel, at least two of whom must be housing authority tenants nominated by the Residents Council, have been seated. Landrieu’s office has said the entire board will be in place by the end of the month.
Fortner grew up in the Hollygrove neighborhood. He graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School and received a bachelor’s degree in English from Northeast Louisiana University, now known as the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Fortner said Thursday that among his first priorities will be trying to restore confidence in the long-troubled agency.
“I think the fundamental thing is we have to establish the public trust,” he said. “It doesn’t speak well that HANO was in receivership for so long.”
Fortner said he also hopes to duplicate his success in Miami with leveraging limited public dollars to obtain private investment to grow the housing authority.
“As public housing resources dry up, we have to look at nontraditional resources,” he said. “You have to look for those opportunities so that you can bring all of the resources that are available to bear.”