LaGrange Housing Authority leader has led several major projects, which led to organization being named Small Business of the Year

Published 9:05 am Friday, January 26, 2024

Over the years, proud Troup County native Zsa Zsa Heard has helped to improve the community of LaGrange one project at a time.

Heard serves as the executive director for the LaGrange Housing Authority and has pioneered several projects, raising money through grants to create more affordable housing for those who need it most. Through her work, she has garnered critical acclaim from the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, becoming one of this year’s recipients of the Small Business of the Year Award. 

“It feels amazing because I’ve applied a lot of times, so it felt surreal to finally win,” Heard said. “I think we put together a really good presentation, so it was just a good feeling.”

Before assuming her current role, Heard graduated from Tuskegee University with a bachelor’s degree in social work and from Troy State University with a master’s in counseling and psychology. She later became a licensed professional counselor and worked in the counseling career field for several years until she was referred by a friend to apply for the LaGrange Housing Authority executive director position. 

One of Heard’s first projects upon taking on her new role was The Phoenix, a newly constructed residential area with over 70 apartments along with amenities including a gym and community center. 

The project cost approximately $17 million and was paid for through investors such as Vantage Development and the Department of Community Affairs. Within a little over a year, The Phoenix’s construction was fully completed, giving many LaGrange natives a better living environment. 

Despite the project’s success, Heard still faced backlash from some members of the community who were upset because The Phoenix was built over an older apartment complex that resided in the city for decades.

“The first project we worked on was when we went and tore down some of the old units that were in the area,” Heard said. “We demolished them and people didn’t like it. They thought they were in good condition, but they were all 70 years old. Eventually, we were able to put up the new structures that you see today such as The Phoenix.”

Heard explained that she hopes to build more affordable housing in the future to create additional opportunities for those who are less fortunate but want to live in a safe and comfortable environment. To help carry those goals out, Heard and her team created a plan to improve community housing and have posted the PDF to the official LaGrange Housing Authority website. 

The 54-page plan includes information on how to improve transportation, healthcare, housing, and more in the community. In spite of Heard’s continued efforts, local residents have continued to express their distaste for the project ideas. Heard, however, has decided to remain resilient with her plans, expressing that she will continue to do her job in full capacity. 

“There’s been a lot of negativity about my staff and the things that we do in the community and how we do it, so we’ve had to fight against a lot of negativity and things said that have been untrue and unsubstantiated,” Heard said. “Creating affordable housing is our mission, and I want to say that we stick to that mission. The housing authority does not earn 100% profit off of the rates that we collect because we’ve chosen to be an affordable platform.”

To help break down the communication barrier between locals and the LaGrange Housing Authority, Heard is inviting residents to volunteer at the facility, to get a glimpse of what she and her team accomplish on a daily basis.

“Come volunteer at the housing authority or offer a donation,” Heard said. “Money is always going to be needed, but we have programs including an after-school program that is fabulous, and we don’t always have all the resources or people that we need to operate it.”

Among her goals of bringing more affordable housing to LaGrange, Heard’s ultimate hope is to bring the Troup County community together and promote more positive relationships among residents.

“Our community needs to become more positive for everybody, and I’m talking about the whole entire Troup County. We can’t continue to tear each other down,” Heard said. “We can’t continue to say facts that are not true. We can’t continue to hurt people.”