LMH Chooses Expertise and Innovation Over Continuity

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.
                – Tom Freston                                                                                                                                                                               

The Lucas Metropolitan Housing (LMH) Board of Commissioners’ decision to appoint Senghor Manns as their new president and chief executive officer (CEO) instead of interim director Rachel Gagnon has sparked an outbreak of spirited discussion and debate.

For some, the board’s decision was a surprise, as many saw Gagnon as the natural successor as chief of the public housing agency.

Known for her dedication to affordable housing, supporters believed her internal knowledge and continuity would provide the long-sought-after stability the agency needed. Though her efforts to navigate financial and administrative challenges inherited from LMH’s previous leadership marked her three-year tenure, advocates emphasized Gagnon’s intimate understanding of LMH’s internal operations and longstanding community connection.

Yet, while Rachel Gagnon certainly makes a solid case, Senghor Manns’ extensive background in housing authority management presents an even more persuasive argument.

With over 15 years of experience at the Harrisburg (Pa.) Housing Authority, Manns showcased his ability to lead large, complex organizations and implement creative housing solutions, which could bring LMH millions of dollars in untapped resources. He was familiar with several programs and designations that current and previous LMH leadership were unaware of.

Ultimately, Manns’ unparalleled experience and innovative mindset, including familiarity with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) operations, tax credit deals and project-based vouchers, set his candidacy apart. His perceived ability to address current LMH challenges that require handling the intricate aspects of public housing, from voucher utilization to repositioning old housing stock like LMH’s Birmingham and Weiler Homes, ranked highest on the agency’s priorities in selecting its next leader.

The Interview

However, the pivotal moment came during the interviews. Manns captivated the interview panel with his deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the highly complex public housing sector. A person close to the situation described his responses as not just informed but visionary, outlining a clear, strategic path for LMH’s future with unparalleled depth and clarity.

Mann’s elaboration of his professional associations, including board membership and participation on the search committee for the President of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), and his respect among peers nationally throughout the public housing network, further strengthened his impression on the panel.

Above all, board members were enthralled by Manns’ exceptional ability to connect during the interview while providing clear, detailed responses.  The selection committee found his vision for LMH to be both compelling and practical.

A Personal Connection

One of the most captivating aspects of Manns’ candidacy was his deep personal connection to the communities he served. According to insiders with direct knowledge, his dedication extended beyond professional responsibilities, fostering personal growth and educational opportunities for many families.

For example, Manns has personally mentored numerous young housing authority residents, exposing them to ballet, symphony and other experiences that have helped youth escape poverty and made other tangible, positive impacts on their lives. He talked affectionately about his experiences with kids who normally wouldn’t go to college and how they would return home every year, asking, “Oh, Mr. Mann, do you remember me?” It was touching.

A New Chapter

The board’s decision was not without its critics. Supporters of Gagnon lamented the loss of a local leader who had dedicated herself to the community. However, even the staunchest advocates had to concede the two candidates’ glaring differences in qualifications and presentation.

Manns’ extensive experience, innovative approaches and superior interview performance drove the evaluation panel’s decision, despite strong advocacy to “hire our own” or appoint Gagnon as Deputy Director. Manns’ ability to bring a fresh perspective untainted by past controversies within LMH and his proven track record of transforming housing initiatives ultimately made him an undeniable choice.

In the end, the board’s decision was clear. They needed a leader who not only understood the intricacies of public housing but could also navigate them with the required expertise and finesse. Their leader was Senghor Manns, a candidate they simply could not refuse.

His appointment signifies a daring move towards a future where experience and innovation take precedence over continuity, marking a new chapter for LMH.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org