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John C. ‘Cal’ Anderson retires after 30+ years

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — John C. “Cal” Anderson is not officially retired yet, but he has worked his last day as executive director of the Housing Authority of Americus (HAA). His retirement becomes official on Dec. 31. After more than three decades in the public housing arena, he plans to spend more time with his family.
Anderson, a 1974 graduate of West Georgia College, armed with a bachelor of business administration and major in accounting, first took a job at a CPA firm in Winder. It was later that year that he entered the field of public housing as an accountant in Monroe, his hometown. He later went to Dublin as executive director of the housing authority in February 1979. He started work in Americus on Jan. 4, 1988, where he and his wife June raised their two children, Anita and Jay, now grown with children of their own. “I’ve lived close to half of my age here [in Americus],” he said, adding that it feels like home.
Although Anderson said that he and his wife have several things planned for his retirement, they are currently keeping their baby granddaughter during the week. June is a writer.
“We might travel around a little bit,” he said, “but mostly I want to just enjoy my grandkids.” He added that the Housing Authority is very fortunate in that they don’t work on Fridays, but instead work four, 10-hour days, so having every Friday off is perfect for him and his wife to also babysit their two older grandchildren on that day each week. “One day of the week we’re going to get all our grandkids to spend time with us,” he said with a big smile on his face. They are ages 10, 7, and 2 and half months, Bowden, Callie, and Madilyn.
Anderson is a shooting enthusiast, with membership in a local shooting club. He has also served as captain in the reserves with the Americus Police Department.
He wants to remain active with the Law Enforcement Academy at South Georgia Technical College where he serves on the advisory board, he said, and do more work with his church, Cornerstone in Americus.
There have been many highlights of Anderson’s tenure here but he did point out a few.
“I remember the very first thing that the chairman [of the board] Arthur Cheokas told me he wanted to do. He wanted us to get out of Sumter Circle and get a big new office complex.” That complex, located just off Mayo Street was finished in 1992, moving the offices from the former location on Sumter Circle where it had been since the 1950s, according to Anderson. Since then, there have been two expansions to the complex: the addition of a maintenance building and a second administrative building.
Anderson said they had demolished 162 public housing units while he’s been here: the ones on Sumter Circle built in the 1950s, and their “sister” project on Peach Circle built at the same time.
The HAA receives grants every year from HUD for capital improvements, Anderson said. “The demolition and the capital improvements are probably the best things.”
He also mentioned the HAA’s ability to build “locally-owned” housing. He said they discovered early on that under HUD’s guidelines, poor, single, non-elderly individuals couldn’t get into public housing. They had to be a family of two or more people related by blood or marriage, or a senior. “We’ve added 120 or so locally-owned units, and we have some Section 8 individuals living in them, and we have others that are rented by individuals at a below-market rate.”
Anderson also explained that two other projects — the Veranda on Mayo Street and East Oaks off Lonnie Lane — were built by the nonprofit Sumter Housing Assistance Corporation.
The former projects on Rucker Street were totally redone but Anderson said they’re still “too dense.” He said people living too close together makes it hard. “I wish we could cut the density there some and spread it out.” There had been 170 units within three blocks, he said, but that number has been reduced to about 70.
Public housing is owned and maintained by the housing authority and rented to residents. For Section 8-eligible, they are given a housing voucher and then go find where they want to live with a private landlord typically. The HAA has lots of Section 8 residents. HUD gives the HAA the money to pay private landlords and to administer Section 8 programs.
The HAA is over public housing in Plains, Leslie and Andersonville, as well as Americus.
“With this Section 8 programs, there’s something called portability, which allows a tenant, once they’ve lived here at least a year, they can port out to another jurisdiction. We probably have 20 families of the 620 in New York, Warner Robins, Marietta, all over the nation … the biggest reason they give me is economic … trying to find a job.”
The HAA has been designated as a “High Performing Housing Authority,” under HUD’s standards, for many years. Anderson said that occasionally, they skip a year but it’s almost always received the high performing designation.
The state organization of housing authorities has also awarded HAA “Newsletter” awards, as well as from the regional professional organization, Anderson said. The HAA also won the Website of the Year award from the state organization in 2017 and 2018 (www.americuspha.org).
Anderson, in his modesty, praised the board of directors. “The board has always been progressive — proactive, not reactive,” he said. “I think that’s what makes a great housing authority, trying to think out of the box, think about the needs of your community and the needs of the people that you’re serving, and try to provide those needs.”
Anderson admitted there is one project he wishes he had finished: a single-family development right across the railroad tracks on Mayo Street. “It’s nothing but a ‘pipe farm’ right now,” he said. “We started that years ago. We took some money from the sale of the property that we demolished … on Tripp Street. We took some of the money that HUD allows, and we developed that for home ownership. About that time, the market crashed. We’ve got five families that have just finished home ownership training and that are working on getting their credit firmed up. We’ve got 19 lots for putting in single-family houses that we’ll sell at a reduced rate to these families.”
This neighborhood is not public housing because it is being developed with non-federal dollars, Anderson said, that they are funded from their locally owned program. The two streets in the neighborhood are Albert Avenue and Cooper Circle, named after Albert Cooper Sr., a former board member and chair, former Americus City Council member and mayor pro tem.
Anderson recalled the chairmen of the board since he’s been here: Arthur Cheokas, Albert Cooper Sr., Bill Krenson, and Bobby Fuse, the current chair. These are all volunteer positions.
George Edge, an employee of HAA for 32 years, is taking the reins from Anderson as executive director as of Jan. 1. “George is the only person here that I didn’t hire,” Anderson said. Edge came to work for the HAA about a year before Anderson’s arrival. Edge started as an occupancy supervisor, moved up to a project manager, and then manager for housing.
Anderson had high praise for the employees of HAA. “I’ve really enjoyed working here,” he said. “I think the Americus Housing Authority is one of the best-run in the state and in the top 10 in the nation … I’ve always tried to treat our employees like family. Try to lead by example and not force anyone to follow me. I think that we’ve provided a lot of housing to people that needed it, some who stepped up and moved out.” He cited Bobby Fuse, current authority chair, who lived in public housing before getting college degrees and starting a successful career in education. He also mentioned that former city administrator Sybil Smith lived in public housing at one time. “There have been a lot of people that the housing authority has helped to move upward,” he said, adding that Coach Jimmy Green and his family were raised in public housing here on Peach Circle, all of whom have obtained college degrees and have successful careers.
Anderson was honored with a big dinner party by the board in the Pope Center at South Georgia Technical College in early December.