Housing Authority of New Orleans considers easing restrictions on accepting tenants with criminal records _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New HANO (Housing Authority of New Orleans) CEO Gregg Fortner speaks in his office in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, July 23, 2014. He is the first leader of the organization since it was released in 2014 from 12 years under federal control.

The board that governs the Housing Authority of New Orleans heard from residents Friday about qualities they want in the agency's next leader.

The board wants to hire Gregg Fortner's successor by this summer. 

Fortner, 61, announced his planned July departure earlier this year, citing differences with the board and what he said were misperceptions about the agency. 

HANO has not released a timeline for accepting applications. Friday's meeting was an attempt to gain input from the public before that effort begins, said Casius Pealer, the board's president. 

Fewer than a dozen people spoke on Friday, even though the board moved its meeting from the agency's headquarters on Touro Street to City Hall to have more room. Fortner was not present. 

Jim Tucker, a landlord who works with HANO's Section 8 program, called the selection of the executive director "the most important decision you face as a board."

"We need continuity in the position, if at all possible," he said. "And we cannot go back to where (HANO) owns and operates (public housing)." 

The agency demolished most of its former giant public housing projects and converted them to mixed-income developments managed by private firms after Hurricane Katrina. The move, in line with changing national trends and federal mandates, followed years of mismanagement under the former model. 

Pat Thomas called for the next leader to be a New Orleans native. Fortner grew up in Hollygrove and attended Benjamin Franklin High School. 

"I just want to know why is it that, when they have executives and things, why they can’t be from right here?" she said. 

The board will hold a national search for the new director, but that will not preclude local candidates from applying, Pealer responded. 

A representative from the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, an affordable housing advocacy group, said HANO has not moved swiftly to sign agreements with developers to bring some of its housing units back into commerce, and that the new leader must work harder to fulfill the agency's mission. 

Pealer said more details about the search process will be announced at a future meeting. 

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.