Atlanta BeltLine not meeting vision for affordable housing, improvements underway

By David Pendered

The Atlanta BeltLine has not caused the construction of nearly as many units of affordable housing as planned, but BeltLine leaders are taking steps to get back on track, according to the BeltLine’s housing policy director.

The Loft at Reynoldstown Crossing

The Lofts at Reynoldstown is to be expanded to provide about 100 additional affordable units at the complex owned by the Atlanta BeltLine. Credit: hud.org

“There’s a big gap between what was expected to create affordable workforce housing and what has been the reality, due to a variety of reasons,” James Alexander, the policy director, said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Regional Housing Forum, an affiliate of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The BeltLine should now have about 2,800 units affordable to those earning a teacher’s salary. That would be the case if construction had occurred at a steady pace since the start of the project.

There now are 570 units of affordable housing in the BeltLine corridor, Alexander said. That’s a tenth of the original goal of 5,600 new affordable homes to be built along the BeltLine by 2027.

If the present rate of construction continues, it will take almost 90 more years to achieve the goal.

The new steps BeltLine leaders have taken to promote affordable housing along the BeltLine include providing more money to incentivize developers to build affordable homes. Three steps are underway:

  • This chart from a 2013 report on the construction of affordable housing along the Atlanta BeltLine determined the project's vision was not being fulfilled. Credit: 'An Atlanta BeltLine for All'

    This chart from a 2013 report on the construction of affordable housing along the Atlanta BeltLine determined the project’s vision was not being fulfilled. Credit: ‘An Atlanta BeltLine for All’

    The board that oversees the BeltLine voted in special-call meeting Wednesay to revise the annual budget. The board added $1.5 million to the account that promotes development of affordable housing. The total to be available is $2.2 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2017. The board of Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, is expected to ratify the revision at its meeting next week.

  • An additional $7.5 million could be available before the end of 2016. The sum would be available if a $50 million bond is sold. The idea is being discussed by Invest Atlanta, the BeltLine, and City Hall, Alexander said.
  • The BeltLine plans to build more apartments at its Lofts at Reynoldstown complex. A request for proposals is to be released later this year for the construction of a complex that will add about 100 affordable units to the site at 670 DeKalb Avenue, Alexander said.

The extra money could help jumpstart the construction of affordable homes along the BeltLine. But the money won’t go far.

Alexander said developers in 2008 were seeking anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000 per affordable unit. The BeltLine was offering $40,000 and many developers didn’t take the bait.

If developers still want at least $80,000 per unit, the $9.7 million in additional funding would incent the construction of about 121 units.

James Alexander, BeltLine

James Alexander

Meantime, the BeltLine is losing some of the affordable housing it once offered, according to several who spoke at the forum. Landlords are raising rents, pushing out some current tenants. Rising property values are pushing out homeowners.

Even the new affordable units are too expensive for some current residents of the BeltLine corridor. Affordable is define as a percentage of the area medium income. In metro Atlanta, the AMI for one person is $38,200.

“Turner Field is a lesson,” said Bruce Gunter, a longtime builder of affordable homes. “If you go to Turner Field’s redevelopment plan, affordable housing is 80 percent of AMI; 80 percent of AMI isn’t affordable to the people who live in Peoplestown [the stadium neighborhood].”

Alexander said that just over 400 units of affordable housing have been built outside the BeltLine tax allocation district. That means they were built within a half mile of either side of the corridor. They do not count toward meeting the goal of 5,600 units because they are outside the TAD.

Alexander’s presentation provided an update to a 2013 report that reached similar conclusions about the failure to fulfill the vision of affordable housing in a timely fashion. The report was commissioned by the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and funded by the Ford Foundation. “An Atlanta BeltLine for All” was neither widely distributed nor discussed.

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.

There are 3 comments

What are your thoughts?