For nearly two decades, Len Williams has been the president and CEO of the Housing Authority of Columbus.
“We have always asked three questions before we have made a major decision in the last 18 years,” he said. “One, was it good for the resident? Second, was it good for our employees? And, third, was it good for the community?”
Tuesday is Williams’ last day in charge of the local authority that is responsible for housing about 13,500 Columbus residents, has 135 employees and a $32.5 million operating budget.
Williams will move into a consulting role with the Housing Authority. Chief Operating Officer Lisa Walters will replace Williams as CEO and handle the day-to-day operations of the Housing Authority.
Since 2001, Williams has overseen the demolition of multiple World War II-era public housing projects and replaced them with mixed-income developments that combine public housing, Section 8 vouchers with market-rate rents.
Peabody Apartment, Booker T. Washington Apartments, Chapman Homes and Baker Village have all been demolished under Williams’ leadership. The move to relocate residents and demolish Chase Homes started last year and continues as Williams leaves.
Tiffany Stacy has lived in public housing for 22 years. She resides in Canty Apartments and is the resident commissioner on the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners.
She gets emotional when she talks about Williams.
“OK, I am trying not to get emotional,” she said “Though I have been on the commission for three years, it’s hard for me to see Len as just the CEO because the way he carries himself around me, his staff and the residents is more like a neighbor, a friend.”
And an advocate for those who count on public housing, Stacy said.
“I think the greatest impact he’s had is advocating for people like me and the residents throughout this city to have a better quality of life and be able to have some control over their life despite what their socioeconomic situation may be,” she said.
Retired Ledger-Enquirer publisher John Greenman is on the HousingAuthority board and has watched the transition Williams has led.
“Len Williams’ view is that the job is housing people – poor people,” Greenman said. “And he has said to me, ‘I want to provide the absolute best possible housing for every one of our residents in neighborhoods’ because he knows, from the research, that it is going to strengthen and improve their lives, especially the lives of children.”
His work has led to more than $200 million in new facilities and improvements to the existing complexes.
When Williams took over the Housing Authority, coming to Columbus from Birmingham, it was under extreme financial stress, but he saw the possibilities amid the issues and problems.
“This is a very planned progression that we have done,” he said. “We have actually done more than I thought we would get done during my tenure. But it’s exactly what we wanted.”
The investment in the public housing development has spurred other development in the areas, Williams said.
He points to the old Baker Village, which is now Arbor Pointe.
“You have two new schools there, a high school and an elementary school,” he said. “You have the Walmart shopping center, which we actually sold the land to the developer. And you have the new health center there, too. I don’t think any of that development would have happened in that area if the old, obsolete Baker Village had still been there.”