“I grew up in High Point public housing and lived in various housing communities throughout the City of High Point. I joined the Job Corps after dropping out of high school and later became a teen mother,” says Angela McGill.
Now, the High Point University graduate—with bachelor’s and MBA degrees—is the Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Authority of the City of High Point. And she’s leading the Authority on its mission to “empower lives and build foundations” for today’s public housing program participants.
“You may have a rough start, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a rough finish,” says McGill.
That’s the message McGill stresses when she talks about the Housing Authority, describing an organization that may be the largest real estate agency in town. It’s not just providing affordable housing, but also helping program participants make the transition to the private market, homeownership and even opening small businesses. McGill is quick to point out that most public housing program participants are not welfare recipients. Most have low-wage jobs or other sources of income that often simply price them out of the private housing market.
Then there’s everything else the Housing Authority does to empower individuals— innovative learning initiatives for program participants of all ages covering arts, financial literacy, housing counseling, reading programs and even a program to help the elderly and disabled learn to use computers and navigate social media and other relevant websites. There’s a practical focus, too. Arts students learn to do business with art. Seniors learn how to find coupons on the internet and stay informed. And academics are a vital focus to the mission of promoting programs outside the home and the school system that can present unique challenges to low-income students.
“We affect more than 2,400 school age children directly,” says McGill. “Our goal is to keep the graduation rate up and break cycles from living in public housing.”
Such initiatives that go beyond housing represent McGill’s greatest challenges. Because unlike housing, none of the empowerment programs—so vital to helping program participants succeed—are funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“We cannot use any of the $21 million we receive from HUD for anything outside of housing, so we have to constantly find funding and grants for the added feature programs we have,” says McGill.
McGill suggests the best way High Point can help the Housing Authority in its mission is to underwrite any number of programs, specific projects and needs. Currently, a large van or bus is vitally needed to provide transportation to empowerment activities around town.
McGill’s passion for the job comes partly from her own example. After dropping out of high school, she signed up for a Job Corp experience in 1982 as a way of escape. During this time, McGill earned her high school diploma and, at 17. returned to High Point.
“While seeking employment, perspective employers would not take me seriously, so I signed up for a word processing course at Brookstone College and earned a certification,” says McGill. “At the age of 22, I joined the military; and from there, I moved back to High Point.”
Even though McGill managed to enroll at High Point University, life’s challenges didn’t stop and she found herself homeless. But she was determined to stay in school. Fortunately, there were people who helped.
“Gail Tuttle was my angel,” says McGill. “Gail, who was dean of the High Point University evening program, helped me by emphasizing that quitting school was not the answer. I was able to return to public housing, work full time and go to school at night.”
After graduating, McGill worked at Lucent Technology as a Defined Benefit Analyst working with actuaries. From there, McGill began her career at the Authority as the Executive Assistant to the CEO, Robert Kenner.
“Growing up in High Point, I never really saw people who looked like me in leadership positions,” says McGill, who is African American. “When I saw Robert Kenner in this position, I was very excited and I gave 500% to assure that he was successful in his role. Though I would have given 500% regardless, there was a special meaning to know that real possibility was available. Even though you are told that achievement is possible, you need to see it to believe it. I never thought I’d be in this particular position later!”
McGill later accepted a job to turn around Rockingham’s troubled Housing Authority, which she did successfully. This gave her a step towards her current position as CEO in High Point where she’s also a role model to clients and their children by providing an example of enthusiastic leadership and vision.
“My belief is we need to move away from toxic charity. I believe charity becomes toxic if recipients are not gaining empowerment by doing something through the process of assistance,” says McGill. “When you only provide services, people think they can’t do it themselves. Therefore, our goal is to provide opportunities to empower.”
You can help the Housing Authority in its mission by helping to fund programs and projects. Visit the Authority’s website at www.hpha.net to learn more.