Ann Lott has been with the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) for well over 20 years. She began as a front office clerk and worked her way up to President and CEO, a position she has held since 2000.
Under her careful and compassionate direction the Dallas Housing Authority has placed on line 2 units of housing every day for the lowest income citizens of the city of Dallas. She has accomplished this during a time when federal funding for low-income housing development was declining.
She is an amazing leader and administrator. She serves on the national public housing board. She has been recognized by her peers as one of the nation's elite public housing directors.
She is a born servant leader.
During the Katrina crisis, I watched Ann stand at a kiosk in the lobby of DHA headquarters for about 8 or 9 hours talking to evacuees from New Orleans one-on-one about the tragedy they had just survived and about how they could begin again in our city. Her stamina is matched only by her deep commitment to assisting individuals and families move up and on toward self-sufficiency.
She was instrumental in our efforts to purchase and redevelop CityWalk@Akard in Downtown Dallas. Ann and DHA have been our partners in human and community development in two challenging neighborhoods in the inner city.
Ann is an amazing person guided by her faith. She does not have a job. She has a life in public service.
Now for a little Dallas politics: Several months ago Ann stood up to leaders in Dallas and members of her own board of commissioners to protect the interests of the low income people in Dallas she is called to serve.
She refused to shift funding from her mission to provide better housing for the lowest income residents of Dallas toward a more politically popular home ownership program.
She objected to the sale of the recently renovated and historic Little Mexico public housing development, a DHA property located on what has become one of the most valuable pieces of Downtown real estate.
She objected to what would have been the illegal transfer of HUD funds to a new non-profit organization that her board chair wanted to see DHA create to facilitate a home ownership program financed at the expense of the poorest residents of our city who cannot afford to purchase housing.
She stood up to do her job and in doing so, at least it seems to me, she inadvertently placed the spotlight on the fact that the City of Dallas is doing far too little to help fund the development of fit and affordable workforce housing that should be offered for sale to people near the bottom of the economic ladder here in Dallas.
Ann knows that her primary job at DHA is to serve the poorest. The City needs to recognize and commit to aggressively serving those residents just above the bottom who could begin to create wealth by owning their own homes. But such a policy can't be carried out "on the cheap."
The city must step up to the challenge, bring in private and not-for-profit developers, provide more soft second mortgage assistance, turn over vacant lots from a beefed-up land bank to builders and help fund the process.
Habitat for Humanity, for all of its good work, cannot provide all that is required here. The churches, synagogues and mosques of Dallas can't rebuild inner city neighborhoods alone.
And our inner city neighborhoods need to receive a diversity of housing stock to foster the secondary economic development that always follows such planned, quality developments. The public sector--DHA and City of Dallas, working with state and federal governments--must rise to the need and the challenge in a coordinated effort to provide better housing in a continuum from the bottom up.
Ann Lott has been doing her part without fanfare and, it seems now, without the kind of board support and leadership she deserves. She has been very clear about her mission.
As a result, she now finds herself caught up in a battle.
Last night, for the second time in a week, the community filled the DHA board room to support Ann against the efforts of her Board Chairman to oust her from her position.
Ironically, the Board Chair did not show up. Thankfully, the community did and so did three of her board members, including newly appointed resident member Marcella Atkinson, a community leader we know well at CDM.
After strong statements of support and calls for accountability from State Senator Royce West, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, former Dallas City Council members Al Lipscomb and Diane Ragsdale and several other community leaders, the board agreed to enter into negotiations with Ms. Lott to renew her contract.
We will see.
Thankfully, the community will continue to watch closely the actions of this Mayor-appointed board to see if it acts for its true constituency--the poorest residents of Dallas, Texas.
Time will tell.
The community will not go away.
I was proud to be there last evening to support our friend and partner, Ann Lott.