Fallout over lack of affordable housing along BeltLine includes Gravel’s testy tweet to Tech prof

By David Pendered

Knowledge of the lack of affordable housing along the Atlanta BeltLine, which was cited in the resignation Monday of two board members from the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, Inc., is not a new phenomenon. However, it has received renewed national attention of late.

beltline condo, 208 montag circle, 9:2016

A sale is pending on this $764,000 condo that says it is ‘steps away from the Beltline’ in Inman Park. The unit has 3,040 square feet and comes with three bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. Credit: highrises.com

The BeltLine’s shortage of affordable housing and social equity were noted in a Sept. 11 story in The New York Times; a Sept. 22 review of Ryan Gravel’s recent book by Georgia Tech Professor Daniel Immergluck in the Journal of the American Planning Assoc.; and in a Sept. 7 presentation to the Metro Atlanta Regional Housing Forum by the BeltLine’s senior housing policy director, James Alexander.

In addition, the lack of affordable housing and social equity along the BeltLine was documented in a 2013 report that was commissioned by the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and funded by the Ford Foundation. This report came after a study in 2007 by Immergluck that warned of displacement of current residents in some neighborhoods along the BeltLine corridor.

Gravel and another ABP board member, Nathaniel Smith, tendered their resignation to the board in a letter dated Monday. The letter cited concerns related to the lack of affordable housing and social equity in the BeltLine corridor. Three days before he resigned, Gravel engaged in a testy Twitter exchange with a Georgia Tech associate professor who praised Immergluck’s review of Gravel’s book.

Meanwhile, federal tax records show that ABP provided a total of $832,482 for its social mission during three fiscal years in which it raised a total of $18.6 million.

Gravel is listed as a board member for all three fiscal years. Smith was named to the board in December 2014, according to his linkedin page.

ABP’s social mission is described in a line item on the 990 forms from 2012, 2013, and 2014 that states:

  • atlanta beltline, 961 camilla street, 9:2016

    This home in a BeltLine neighborhood near Washington Park, a few blocks west of the Georgia Dome, was bought at auction in 2014 for $10,585 after selling for as much as $214,061 in 2007, according to Fulton County tax records. The home was built in 1920 and has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and covers 1,119 square feet. Credit: David Pendered

    “Social impact – catalyze the affordable housing, job creation, healthier living and other social objectives that comprise the Atlanta BeltLine vision.”

During the same three years, ABP provided $7.7 million to its parks and trails mission of buying land and developing parks and trails, according to the tax forms.

The tax filing for FY 2015 is not posted on guidestar.org, a national clearinghouse of tax forms for non-profits. The filings for the three prior years were dated Nov. 15 of the respective year. Had past procedure been followed, the FY 2015 form likely would have been dated Nov. 15, 2015.

This is the context in which Gravel and Smith announced their resignation from the board. Gravel and Smith also cited the abrupt departure of ABP’s executive director, Chuck Meadows. Meadows was named to the post in November 2014 and forced out of the post in July.

The shortage of affordable housing factored highly in the resignation letter that Gravel and Smith released:

  • “While there have been success stories that we can be proud of, our coalition’s progress has not been commensurate with the scale of the challenges at hand. The recent announcement of $7.5 million from TAD bonds, for example, will likely support fewer than 200 affordable units out of ABI’s obligation to 5,600 – it is a drop in the bucket when compared to the need. As the economy roars back to life and growth in the city accelerates, this work is increasingly urgent and we feel strongly that our attention must be channeled directly toward it.”
Ryan Gravel

Ryan Gravel

Here’s how the Atlanta BeltLine’s issues of affordable housing and social equity have been described in national publications:

The New York Times: A Glorified Sidewalk, and a Path to Transform Atlanta

  • “Gentrification fears are also widespread. The city has built only a small fraction of the 5,600 affording housing units it promised along the loop, largely because the recession from 2007 to 2009 depressed property values and lowered the revenue from a tax-increment funding plan.
  • “Officials at Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the quasi-governmental agency overseeing the project, have pointed to other plans they hope will keep low-income residents along the BeltLine. But some residents are skeptical in a city that has torn down nearly all of its traditional public housing complexes in recent years.”
  • “‘Instead of helping poor people around here fix up their property, they’re going to give them pennies on the dollar and they’re going to move,’ said Lena Shepard, 79, a shopper at a west side grocery store along the BeltLine.”
Nathaniel Smith

Nathaniel Smith

Journal of the American Planning Assoc. Immergluck reviews Gravel’s book, Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities:

  • “A second concern is the lack of substantial action on the issue of housing affordability and displacement. The Beltline has clearly helped spur an increase in property values and development, especially on the east side, but with these changes have come gentrification, rising rents, and higher property taxes for existing residents (Immergluck, 2009)….
  • “There is the question of the Beltline’s definition of affordable housing. It is calculated with a relatively high income threshold so that some subsidized developments are able to satisfy the requirements by providing small, $1,000-per-month studios, which are not cheap by Atlanta standards and not affordable to households with incomes lower than 50 percent of the area median income where the need is the greatest. Meanwhile, thousands of high-end luxury units have sprouted up near the Beltline, often with rents exceeding $2,000 to $3,000 per month, particularly on the east side, causing land values to spike, which has made the preservation of existing affordable housing extremely difficult.
  • “The book does include a chapter on equity, which feels a bit like an addendum. There is almost no mention of housing affordability or displacement until this chapter, which is 195 pages into a 225-page book. Even here, there are few ideas about what could have been done differently to secure affordability and prevent displacement. Instead, it touts the Beltline’s existing programs and policies, which have little to show for themselves.”
atlanta beltline, gravel tweets, sept 2016

Ryan Gravel, who wrote his masters thesis at Tech about a concept that became the Atlanta BeltLine, engaged in a Twitter exchange with a Georgia Tech assistant prof who has his doctorate and whose masters these is titled, “Near-Roadway Air Quality: Meta-Analysis and Mitigation.” Credit: twitter, inc., alexkarner.com

Gravel engaged in a Twitter exchange regarding the review with Alex Karner, an assistant professor of transportation planning at Georgia Tech who earned his doctorate in 2012 in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California at Davis. Karner tweeted that Immergluck’s review, “is on point. Equity implications an after thought.”

Gravel’s response was: “Says people who weren’t there.”

Incidentally, in 2007 Immergluck wrote a study for Georgia Stand Up titled, The Beltline and Rising Home Prices: Residential Appreciation Near the Beltline Tax Allocation District and Policy Recommendations to Minimize Displacement.

The executive summary contains this observation:

  • “This report offers evidence that taxes and rents are rising and causing displacement in the neighborhoods around the proposed Beltline. Given the extent of value appreciation in many places near the TAD, more vigorous and comprehensive policies are needed to reducing and respond to problems caused by rapidly increasing housing costs, especially for low- and moderate-income residents.
  • “[T]he analysis provides strong evidence that the planning and publicity surrounding the Beltline project beginning in 2003 has increased residential appreciation near the south side of the Beltline TAD compared to the appreciation rates of homes located farther from the Beltline.”


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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