Affordable housing along Atlanta BeltLine overlooked in debate of plan by BeltLine Rail Now
By David Pendered
Affordable housing along the Atlanta BeltLine is a central concept that’s been largely overlooked in the debate over the $2.5 billion transit-funding plan produced by BeltLine Rail Now.
Yet affordable housing is right there in the first paragraph of the Note to Reader that begins the white paper released last week by BeltLine Rail Now, Atlanta Beltline Rail: A Blueprint for Transit Funding.
This sentence seems to be hidden in plain sight:
- “Atlanta’s leaders – its Mayor and City Council – have lost sight of the complete BeltLine vision, particularly the affordable housing component’s connection to transit.”
The second paragraph contains these words:
- “Without the density and mobility that transit allows, there can be no significant affordable housing. And without transit built-in from the beginning, gentrification – and its worst consequence, displacement of long-time residents – is accelerating. The promotion of a tax-subsidized trail without BeltLine rail has made these problems worse.”
BeltLine Rail Now intends to make the fast-tracking of BeltLine transit an issue in this year’s city elections, just as advocates of affordable housing made their concern an issue in the 2017 city elections. The goal is to complete all aspects of the transit system by 2035.
The Note to Readers observes:
- “Those we have entrusted to lead our city are responsible for delivering the complete BeltLine vision. Our insistence is on accountability. We will ensure that candidates for key elected offices in 2021 are informed about this paper’s findings, and we commit to providing opportunities for them share their views on completing the Beltline in the next decade. We believe this document will give them the tools to deliver on that promise.”
The paper appears to offer a what and a why in its 48 pages.
The debate so far has been about the what of the plan: A proposal for raising $2.5 billion to fast-track construction of the transit system that was to be at the heart of the project Ryan Gravel offered as a transit system in his 1999 Georgia Tech thesis, Belt Line Atlanta: Design of Infrastructure as a Reflection of Public Policy.
The what of the plan is contained in four case studies that illustrate successful efforts in other cities to pay for transit projects. The document is a heavy lift. The case studies are preceded by three pages of definitions of funding mechanisms that the report contends could be used to fast-track transit construction along the BeltLine. Federal funding is to provide a significant sum.
MARTA has provided a forceful response to the funding suggestions outlined in the paper. MARTA is tasked with building the BeltLine transit system that has been identified along the BeltLine, as well as operating the Atlanta Streetcar and other expansion projects.
MARTA’s characterization of the proposal as “less a blueprint for funding and more a wish list” has generated some pushback from BeltLine Rail Now.
MARTA’s full response concludes:
- “MARTA appreciates BRN’s passion and stands ready to work with them to advocate for additional funding sources. We also stand behind the decisions that were made in conjunction with the Mayor and Atlanta City Council that prioritize high capacity transit connecting MARTA heavy rail with the 2nd largest jobs center at Emory University along the Clifton Corridor, connecting Campbellton Road to Oakland City station and expanding Bankhead station to unlock the potential of the city’s northwest quadrant. Public transit is providing the foundation for economic opportunity across the city. That work must continue.”
The why of the plan has yet to generate much discussion. The why involves transit as a component of dense residential developments, and as a way of reducing the reliance on costly car-ownership. The paper observes:
- “It is within the unique purview of the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) to generate an abundant supply of permanently affordable housing units by optimizing the development of land it owns and leveraging federal and local housing program funds. By focusing these AHA resources on the BeltLine corridor to create a concentration of rental units affordable for households below 60% Area Median Income (AMI), Atlanta Hous- ing would enhance the chance for BeltLine Rail to secure $1 billion in federal transportation funds. Why do that?
- “After housing, owning a car is the second- biggest expense in a family’s budget. In Atlanta, car payments, fuel, parking and insurance can cost between $500 and $1,000 a month. Having reliable transit that takes people everywhere they need to go would enable them to ditch the expense of car ownership.
- “Furthermore, households in communities with access to transit and a mix of jobs and services spend just 9 percent of their household budgets on transportation, compared with a national average of 19 percent….”
BeltLine Rail Now contends that unless city leaders accelerate the public transit component of the BeltLine, the project’s affordable housing will forever be out of reach.