By David Pendered
Atlanta’s focus on affordable housing has turned to the issuance of building permits, specifically, speeding up the permitting process for affordable homes. The issue was approved Tuesday, in the same meeting at which the interim head of the city’s housing authority said it has budgeted $106 million in development projects.
The two viewpoints speak to the complexities facing Atlanta – and communities across the country – as prices rise in an era when the nation’s housing stock is barely keeping up with the number of households formed since the Great Recession.
Atlanta Housing already owns the land on which it intends to develop and preserve housing, AH’s interim President Joy Fitzgerald said Tuesday at Atlanta City Hall. The project list includes new construction ($38.5 million); partnerships with Invest Atlanta ($29.6 million); and preservation ($9.3 million).
In all these endeavors, AH’s ownership of the land takes away a central concern in development – carrying costs for land.
In the case of private developers, time is money and project costs can be affected by the length of time spent waiting for building permits. The price of land has skyrocketed increased by 61 percent from 2012 to 2017 – based on the median price for an acre in Fulton County during the timeframe, according to figures cited in the 2019 State of the Nation’s Housing Report issued by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Atlanta Councilmember Andre Dickens has introduced legislation asking the city’s Planning Department to look for ways to hasten the permitting process for projects that include affordable homes. The paper was approved Tuesday by the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Service Committee, which sent it to a vote by the council at its meeting Aug. 19.
The nonbinding measure asks the Planning Department to deliver within 60 days any recommendations it can devise for speeding up the permitting process that involve a particular category of developments: Those in which a minimum of 10 percent of units are at or below the federal government’s affordability rates.
“We have found a few projects that we all wanted to see happen, but things get in the way around permitting,” Dicken’s said.
Planning Commissioner Tim Keane said the department supports the request.
“We want to do everything we can,” Keane said.
Keane had one caveat – the city won’t allow unsafe housing.
Keane cited an example in which an unnamed developer wanted to buy and flip into the rental market an apartment complex that had suffered fire damage – without making any safety upgrades.
“No sprinklers, no safety improvements,” Keane said. “No way we’re going to get to affordability by putting people in unsafe situations.”
Keane also observed that the permitting process has become faster than in the past. Keane didn’t cite the current city budget, which includes this snapshot of building permit activity:
- “The Office of Buildings issued 8,611 building permits in FY17, an 11 percent increase on the number issued in FY16. The Office of Buildings permitted over $4.6 billion of new construction investment in FY17, a 32 percent increase from the $3.48 billion permitted in FY16.”