“I never heard of any other housing authority that had the number of concurrent projects as the Philadelphia Housing Authority,” he says easily, smiling and showing off very large, very white teeth. “We had sort of a stunning transformation over a short period of time, going through all the really bad housing projects …. A lot of people across the country wanted to do the same, but what you won’t see is the same scale in any other city.”
And here’s the thing: He’s right. Carl Greene rode in from Detroit a little more than a decade ago and demanded — through sheer force of personality — that his agency would no longer be a patronage dumping ground for Bob Brady and city council and ward leaders, that employees would come to work and really do their jobs and perform on a level that would remake public housing in this city.
There is plenty of hard evidence — the stuff of mortar and bricks — on how Greene changed the landscape of Philadelphia. How he improved the lives of 84,000 “customers,” as he calls them. How he not only rebuilt communities, but created senior centers and job training initiatives, and recently began pushing the housing authority into public education. Where there were drug- and crime-ridden high-rise towers in West and North Philly and East Falls, there are now functioning neighborhoods. Where PHA-owned homes blighted blocks in places like Spring Garden, they’ve been rehabbed. Where Section 8 housing was a horror in the Northeast, Greene trained owners and tenants in the art of joining a community.
Carl Greene will tell you, again and again, that he did all that — and so will a lot of other people. He was on a mission. Which, of course, only makes the other side, the apparent great divide in him, more perplexing: Why, Carl, why?
Greene has had a lot of time over the last few months to think, to come up with his own answer to that. He’s been in therapy, and it’s given him a language to explain himself.
“While you can bury things and not think about things and wrap yourself up in the present,” Carl Greene says, “the past is not far behind.”
BEFORE HIS LIFE BLEW APART LAST SUMMER, Greene seemed to be on top of the world. The extraordinary things he’d accomplished with PHA had given him stature nationally in public housing. And there was no sign of him letting up — he had some $200 million worth of new housing projects in the works.
The downfall began in August, when the Inquirer reported that his Naval Square townhouse, worth $615,000, was in foreclosure; Greene hadn’t made a mortgage payment in months. The previous December, the paper also reported, the IRS had filed a $52,000 lien against him for unpaid taxes on income earned outside of PHA. (Greene paid off the lien in March of last year.)