By Guest Columnist CEASAR MITCHELL, president of the Atlanta City Council and candidate for Atlanta mayor
My devotion to Atlanta expresses itself with my devotion to serving the area and its families for over 15 years. One of my dreams that I have worked toward, first as a city council member and now as city council president, is to make sure that Atlanta is home to everyone. A home in our city that can be loved, a home that is safe, and a home that is affordable.
Affordable housing has been the calling card of many, for years, and those that have come before me have done some great work. But it is time to dig in and truly build up our city – not only the foundation, but the framing, the walls, and roof as well.
Last week I had the opportunity help to cut the ribbon on a brand new section of development in Mechanicsville that will serve low-income families and help revitalize the area. The development includes 66 new homes and the rehabilitation of eight other properties. This new 18-block area will help create homeownership opportunities for those that previously could only dream of the idea.
All of the Mechanicsville Cityside properties will start out as rentals but will then give tenants the opportunity, under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, to buy the properties at a deep discount after 15 years. This is a great plan that allows low-income families to one day own their home and stay in a city they love.
The city of Atlanta has attracted some amazing companies over the last few years, but in many of the conversations I have, a critical thread is missing: affordable housing. As a public servant I have always supported inclusionary zoning policies and the ability for Atlantans to live where they work, which calls for a change in how we manage development. As the city grows, we need to make sure everyone grows as one.
This is part of the reason I pushed for affordable housing to be an integral part of the nearly $5 billion BeltLine project. In the original plans, the BeltLine was supposed to include 5,600 units of affordable housing that can support a diverse community and workforce. Currently $12.5 million has been dedicated to this goal, with only 570 units built so far, which means more work still needs to be done.
We have to dig in and decide, as a city, that our investments inside of I-285 must support a place for all of Atlanta’s families to be safe and to grow. This includes many young people who are moving into the city right now, and this especially includes those that have been here since the beginning.
The for-profit real estate company NHP recently published a survey of millennials showing that about 30 percent have put off home-ownership in Atlanta because their salaries and the housing prices are not compatible. This same study also found that 70 percent of those surveyed pay nearly a third of their income for housing. Additionally, 12 percent of that 70 percent are even passing on healthcare in order to pay rent or mortgages! We cannot be a city that thrives on a national or global stage when we have the future of our city passing on healthcare in order to pay rent. Families in Atlanta cannot be forced to choose between healthcare or housing, education or housing, food or housing. We need our families and our neighbors to have safe and stable homes so we can have a safe and stable city.
Even though median household income in Atlanta is $46,400 a year, we have to remember that many Atlanta citizens make much less. If a young person pays $15,000 a year in housing costs, it means that all other costs take more of their paycheck every month. This is when policies, such as inclusionary zoning, affordable housing projects, and tax allocation districts, can truly support our citizens and keep Atlanta the beautiful mosaic of diversity it has always been.
Again, this is the time to dig in and make the decision as a community to support all of our families and making sure that the city is thriving and growing together.