By David Pendered
Two strategies seem to be emerging around the issue of affordable housing near the Falcons stadium – 1) Give up the neighborhoods and work to keep the name and statue of a Confederate officer out of a planned park; or, 2) Quickly impose public policies to protect current and future residents who have lower incomes.
Clearly, the issue of Atlanta’s dwindling numbers of affordable homes in long-established lower income areas – particularly near the Mercedes-Benz Stadium – is approaching a flash point. Speculators are raising rents and longtime homeowners see the day when they won’t be able to afford property taxes as appraisals increase.
As area resident Pamela Flores said last week at a meeting of the Northwest Community Alliance: “When will [protective] provisions go into effect?” No answer was forthcoming.
Joe Beasley, who is Jesse Jackson’s longtime representative in Atlanta, said the fight is over for affordable housing near the stadium.
“In English Avenue and Vine City, I think the die is cast on this gentrification issue,” Beasley said Monday. “Where black people live has always been dictated by society’s laws.”
The fight is not over for over a proposed statuary park in Vine City, Beasley said.
This is the park that Rodney Mims Cook and the National Monuments Foundation envision as a place for statues. They are to include Cook’s ancestor, Livingston Mims, who joined the Confederate army, reached the rank of major, and later served as Atlanta’s mayor from 1901 to 1903. Another proposed honoree is Yamacraw Chief Tomochichi, who served as a liaison between Native Americans and the arriving British colonists in the 1700s.
“I don’t think Mims earned a place in the park,” Beasley said. “Tomochichi was a disgrace to his people. … The same thing that happened to Tomochichi’s people is the black removal that’s happening now.”
Of note, the stadium isn’t the only magnet for investors in these neighborhoods. Some were rife with investors long before Falcons team owner Arthur Blank announced the stadium in 2012.
Consider three houses south of Beckwith Street from Washington High School, in southwest Atlanta. They are close to the Atlanta BeltLine and Washington Park, which is one of the prime parks along the BeltLine trail.
The three houses have been bundled and were purchased by Colonial Capital, LLC in January for a total of $200,000. They were bundled in 2009 by Vincent Terry, who paid a total of $72,650 for the three parcels – $19,750 for one house; $30,000 for another; and $22,900 for the third house in the assemblage. The three properties have had four owners since Terry, according to Fulton County property tax records.
The second approach in preserving affordable housing calls for providing some sort of tax relief to property owners.
In exchange for tax relief, those owners who rent the homes agree to hold the line on rent; homeowners who participate could have the higher taxes waived until the home is sold, at which time the accrued taxes would be paid.
Georgia Tech Professor Dan Immergluck and graduate student Kevin Mara have suggested a number of these sorts of possible courses of action. They presented their report in April to the Westside Community Alliance, a communications network sponsored by Georgia Tech.
Incidently, Immergluck released a report this month on the stadium neighborhoods that shows some home rental prices this year alone have spiked by 27 percent, on an annualized basis.
The Immergluck/Mara report cited a number of government programs that could be implemented over time. The trouble with many of them is that they expire over time. That means some new initiatives have to be devised. Some examples include:
- Reducing property taxes on properties that provide affordable rents, as has been done in Cook County, home of Chicago;
- Applying city funds to repay a bond sold to establish affordable housing through construction and renovation;
- Deferring property taxes for eligible owners until the dwelling is sold, as is done in King County, Wash.
“There are way to protect low income homeowners in terms of property tax increases, and possibly to protect renters,” Immergluck said.
“If Atlanta had a program like that, like other cities do, you could educate folks to op into the program and they would not be so frightened of losing their home,” Immergluck said. “It creates a sense that they get to benefit from this benefit of development in their neighborhood – they can afford to stay there.”
The time to act is before neighborhoods begin attracting attention from investors, he said. The issue faces all of Atlanta, not just the stadium neighborhoods.
“It’s something we needed at the start of the BeltLine,” Immergluck said. “It takes the edges off the downsides of gentrification and benefits people already there. The point in the [recent research] piece is that this has to be the first thing you think of when you do large-scale interventions.
“Otherwise, speculators are going to swarm into the places before you get a shovel in the ground,” Immergluck said.