Atlanta BeltLine called to explain what it’s doing to help existing residents, shopkeepers

By David Pendered

It’s still early, but Atlanta BeltLine officials may have some serious explaining to do regarding the extent to which they have complied with a mandate that the BeltLine improve the quality of life for existing residents impacted by the development.

Mechanicsville, BeltLine

Redevelopment along the southern crescent of the Atlanta BeltLine has been slower than in the northside. These homes in the Mechanicsville neighborhood are tended, and vacant. Credit: David Pendered

Some residents grumbled when the BeltLine was being devised that it may hurt, or do little to help, folks who have lived in blight and worked in crumbling industrial complexes through the bleak years. Over the past year, the lack of affordable housing in new developments built in the BeltLine corridor has triggered criticism of the BeltLine’s fulfillment of its original vision.

The Atlanta City Council sought to address some of these concerns in the 2005 legislation that created the BeltLine’s tax allocation district. In Section 19, the legislation includes an outline of a community benefits policy that was to be expanded in the future. The outline addressed jobs and jobs training, with the more complete list to come later.

Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand Up, brought the issue to a head Wednesday in remarks to the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Resources Committee.

Scott reminded that she was in the group of advocates who lobbied for the addition of Section 19. Scott’s remarks followed a presentation by Paul Morris, the BeltLine’s president and CEO.

Deborah Scott

Deborah Scott

“We get a report that has pretty pictures of people that look like they are working along the BeltLine,” Scott said. “But there are no indicators of how many people actually have jobs, how many people are actually are living in these houses that are being bought and how many apartments are actually occupied by residents that are in the 50 percent and below of AMI [area median income].

“What I’d like to know is, where is the community benefits report?” Scott said. “It should be pretty thick because we’ve been working on it 12 years.”

The immediate response was short and sweet.

“I can’t answer that,” said Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, filling in as committee chairperson for Chairperson Natalyn Mosby Archibong.

Sheperd did instruct the council’s analyst, Steven Tam, to pull the BeltLine TAD legislation. Sheperd said she and Archibong would collaborate and develop a response to Scott’s query. No time frame was given.

Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr. said the issue might be more a matter of record-keeping than lack of production by BeltLine leadership.

beltline 3“A lot of it [concern] is founded in not necessarily what is, or is not, being produced,” Young said. “It’s information that needs to be presented – whatever, where we are today, with accomplishment or lack of. We just need a complete report to all the things.”

Sheperd did not invite Morris to comment. Earlier in the meeting, Sheperd had expressed her disappointment in the lack of development along the BeltLine along its southern crescent – home of her district.

Morris attended the meeting in order to present a quarterly update of BeltLine progress to the council committee that oversees the project.

Morris’ presentation lasted about 26 minutes. For the next hour, councilmembers presented their views and comments, including this comment from Sheperd:

  • “I’m through being on the soapbox. I really want to have a conversation, a really serious conversation. I want to change some processes in terms of structure. Because it’s almost like when I talk to you all it’s like, ‘OK, thank you,’ and then you go on to continue to do the things you do.”

Here’s the complete text of Section 19, which Scott brought to attention:

  • “The capital projects that receive funding from TAD bond proceeds shall reflect, through the development agreements or funding agreements that accompany such projects, certain community benefit principles, including but not limited to: Prevailing wages for workers; a ‘first source’ hiring system to target job opportunities for residents of impacted low income ‘BeltLine’ neighborhoods; establishment and usage of apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs for workers of impacts BeltLine neighborhoods. A more complete list of such principles and a community benefit policy shall be developed with community input and included within the agreements to be approved by City Council.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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