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At BeltLine quarterly briefing, affordability dominates

The Atlanta BeltLine has its own requirements regarding affordable housing that are different from elsewhere in the city. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Maggie Lee

The BeltLine is going to have its biggest ever budget for affordable housing next fiscal year — $12 million is big by its standards. But since the trail is part of the fuel that’s heating up home prices, affordable housing activists and residents continue to bring the pressure to it for more.

“It really feels like a good year for us: we’re going to be in building mode,” BeltLine President and CEO Clyde Higgs said, opening a quarterly public briefing Thursday, held at Friendship Baptist Church, in the Atlanta University Center neighborhood.

In 2019, work is set to finish on the Eastside Trail, the Southside corridor will open as an interim trail and the Enota Park expansion will get well underway.

A drink with an Eastside Trail view. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

A drink with an Eastside Trail view. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

But the audience Q and A time overflowed its scheduled spot, and very little of the talk was about the trail. It was about gentrification and the rising cost of housing.

The term “affordable housing” gets used loosely, said Sherise Brown, who’s with the Housing Justice League.

It can apply to rents as low as zero, but it can also mean rents well over $1,000 per month, the sort of thing that could help a young teacher or police officer.

“When it says ‘mixed-income,’ it seems like the zero to thirty [percent of area median income] is not included, and that’s the most in-need,” Brown said, using the technical definition for the very bottom of the income ladder, like a family of two with an income of $18,000 or less.

Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, welcomed Higgs to the BeltLine. He joined in 2015 and this year was made its leader. But she said Higgs has inherited questions, research and recommendations.

“There are some questions about affordable housing that have been burning in these communities for years,” Scott said.

She pointed to a study that Georgia Stand-up commissioned about ten years ago, by Georgia Tech professor Dan Immergluck.

Numbers from 2000 to 2006 strongly suggested that BeltLine hype had already increased residential value appreciation near the south part of the planned route, compared to the appreciation rates of houses further from the trail, the report found.

The study recommended several things, including: that the city consider focusing affordable housing measures on people on the lowest quarter of the income ladder, and increase financial support for rental housing especially along the south and west BeltLine.

Another study on 2011 to 2015 data also found that home prices near the BeltLine were growing faster than in the rest of the city.

Since before the first section of BeltLine concrete was dry, everybody knew the multi-use trail would make neighborhoods around it more expensive. It was how the BeltLine was supposed to get funded, in large part. As property along the route went up in value, an increment of the bigger property taxes would be set aside to build the the trail.

Perhaps 100 people came to the BeltLine quarterly briefing, held at Friendship Baptist Church on June 13. Credit: Maggie Lee

Perhaps 100 people came to the BeltLine quarterly briefing, held at Friendship Baptist Church on June 13. Credit: Maggie Lee

The BeltLine was also supposed to be a thing that would knit together Atlanta’s divided neighborhoods, in the form of a nice linear park with transit. And for some of the neighborhoods along it, it’s new investment where little has been seen in years.

And it’s nice, no question. But what brings the frustration is fear of not being able to afford being around to enjoy those things once they’re done.

The official response has seemed to be a step, or more, behind the market.

The city now has an affordable housing mandate near the trail, though a less aggressive one than the Georgia Stand-Up report recommended. The BeltLine itself is switching strategies: instead of trying to incentivize developers to put affordable housing in buildings, the BeltLine is trying to own land itself. That way, if it’s publicly owned, public policy can set very low rent prices, permanently.

In the last couple of months, there’s been a noticeable increase in cooperation among the BeltLine, Atlanta’s development authority (Invest Atlanta) and Atlanta’s housing authority, coordinated by the city’s inaugural chief housing officer Terri Lee. 

But there’s a lot of lost time. The housing authority went about a decade without building new rentals, even after demolishing old projects. And the BeltLine itself got behind schedule with its affordable housing pledge. For everybody who mentions rent control, there’s the fact that the state of Georgia doesn’t allow cities to set rent controls.

And all this comes amid research that suggests the affluent are attracted to city living in ways that they just weren’t 10 or 20 or 30 years ago.

In Atlanta, affordable housing seems at least to be part of talking points now. Elected and appointed city, county and state leaders from Atlanta regularly talk about affordable housing and income immobility, it’s always “part of the conversation,” as the phrase goes.

So it seems all hands are at least saying they’re on deck for affordability. But the market forces that have been bearing down on the westside for years already are mighty.

Video of the meeting (in two parts) is available on the BeltLine’s Facebook page.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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6 Comments

  1. Atlanta Resident June 18, 2019 1:47 am

    Zero to 30 % AMI, Who exactly constitutes the Zero AMI group? The homeless! Someone please tell me how that’ll
    benefit the restoration of The English Ave and Vine City Neighborhoods? Groups that are advocating for mass amounts
    of extremely low-income housing near the N.W. portion of the Beltline are trying to re-create the old housing projects’
    atmosphere that brought crime and generations of poverty to the area over the past 50 years.

    The nice thing about this article is it’s honestly in admitting the City knew the Beltline would escalate property values,
    bring in higher taxes, especially as the City allowed the building of very large McMansions in areas like the Old Fourth Ward and other areas.

    And now long time residents are being displaced from their homes.by these “affordability issues”. Displace some to benefit
    others makes little sense to me. It sounds like a zero sum game. The City did this intentionally. So as escalating property
    taxes cleanse low and moderate income residents from their homes in certain areas around the Beltline that’s justified
    by swamping other areas with poverty? Calling this plan “social justice” is a travesty, it appears more akin to something
    out of an old economic segregationist playbook…It started off being called “workforce housing” for cops, school teachers, etc and it’s morphed into “affordable housing” for people with no income just in time to co-inside with the Beltine’s plans
    to enter into areas of town that have been depressed for decades.Report

    Reply
  2. Atlanta Resident June 20, 2019 12:48 pm

    “The nice thing about this article is it’s honestly in admitting the City knew the Beltline would escalate property values,…”
    Everyone knew this. This was never hidden. If you read the plans from 10 years ago, this was advertised. It was literally built into the plans for this project. That is partially how the project is funded.

    The people who live here who are being displaced also benefit from higher property values because when they sell they make more sometimes even up to 3x what the property was valued at before.

    I agree that there are issues that need to be fixed, but all I hear is righteous criticism from you. How would you address those issues?Report

    Reply
  3. Atlanta Resident June 20, 2019 5:58 pm

    Curious why are you posting using my screen moniker? Or have I inadvertently borrowed yours? Likely it’s too late in the
    planning game to fully remedy the issue(s). I tried repeatedly to get the city to integrate affordable set-a-sides equally
    all around the Beltline rather than just trying to utilize the Beltline as a financial driver to fund putting the lionized amount
    of low-income housing especially in the N.W. quadrant.

    I’m sure investor/speculator types in areas like the O4Ward are delighted to turn a large profit when they sell, these types
    aren’t my concern. I care more for long time residents in areas near the Beltline that are being driven-out by high property
    taxes. OK, so they make some bucks…does that justify their planned displacement by the city? Do you even know what
    a zero sum game is?

    Do you honestly think any serious developer wants to integrate zero AMI residents into market rate housing? When someone has zero income they aren’t even on disability.Recently the developers of the Darlington apts in Buckhead
    announced to avoid doing very large low income set-a-sides they’ll just convert their plans from apts to condos.

    I guess you think it’s just fine to try and cluster very low income groups together like back in the Perry Homes, Techwood
    Homes days and route them into areas like English Ave/Vine City that have been given short shrift by the City for
    decades…And since you’re on your high horse telling me this concept was ensconced in Beltline plans 10 years ago
    I can’t help but wonder why whenever I directed my concerns on this matter I was just shuffed off like it was all in my
    mind. I imagine you’re a city employee getting your bread and butter from this zero sum planning. In closing, if this
    expedited funding scheme was so open and public why periodically did Ryan Gravel speak out so often for a more equal
    disbursement of set-a-sides in a build as you go manner? If you’re not a city planner than you’re a real estate agent, aren’t you?Report

    Reply
  4. Atlanta June 20, 2019 11:55 pm

    Stop crying the city is getting rid of the junk. Why would anyone want property values to stay stagnant while the city is growing we live in America the greatest country in the world when it comes to opportunity. The homeless can find shelter housing instead of vandalizing vacant properties. Current home owners can spend their money more wisely and pay the increase in taxes. You should be happy you have something you can sell that’s worth something. Stop your crying.Report

    Reply
  5. Atlanta Resident June 21, 2019 2:40 pm

    “From each according to his ability to each according to his need”, that’s the motto of the communist party. You’re making
    a big assumption accusing me of being destitute and having to sell on the run. Difficult for you to understand that anyone
    would advocate for improving areas like Vine City/English Ave by ways other than trying to dump/herd an indigent population into the area. rather than trying to integrate the poor piece meal around town.

    And heaven forbid, I,who don’t live in the O4Ward , would have a heart for an elderly lady living in a Habitat House
    originally valued at 65K and now appraised at 600K and she doesn’t want to move.

    High concentrations of indigent people in congested areas bring generational poverty and crime. Basically I think there’s been some bad planning around the Beltline done simply to expedite it’s progress. Faster isn’t necessarily better.Report

    Reply
  6. Rand Fisher June 22, 2019 11:35 am

    RE: appreciation rates greater than the mean rates of Atlanta. Take into consideration developers are investing millions into properties to take them from empty warehouses, manufacturing facilities, abandoned offices to usable for current purposes. If the market is 3% appreciation and the development properties see capital investments it is easy to understand why there is greater value increase
    Similarly in housing. Driving the neighborhoods affected, and further out, you see dilapidated, unoccupied, housing being renovated to more modern ad livable standards. Streets where one would not want to drive down 5 years ago are now sprouting rejuvenated homes. Same math as the commercial. Low priced, substandard homes combined with large amounts of funds spend to restore/renovate resulting in value increases in excess of market trends. Interesting fact is most of these renovations are done by smaller builders and investors without the use of any government based funding. Nor are they receiving acknowledgement for their efforts in taking, house by house, areas no one wanted to live in to communities where home buyers are seeking to live.
    Time to stop using broad sweeping statistics to paint a picture and look at the basics. Apply smaller paint brushes studying the smaller contributing factors. In the past 5 years how many substandard, non-livable, marginally livable homes are now renovated and occupied?Report

    Reply

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