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Athens considers SPLOST that could boost housing affordability. Could that work for Atlanta?

Luxury apartments, like the ones planned for this site in Buckhead, shouldn't be getting tax incentives unless they provide real affordable housing, experts say. (credit: Google Maps)

Luxury apartments, like the ones planned for this site in Buckhead, shouldn’t be getting tax incentives unless they provide real affordable housing, experts say. (credit: Google Maps)

By Sean Keenan

The Athens-Clark County government has drafted a more than $300 million project list for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) which, if backed by voters in a November referendum, would produce much-needed affordable housing, among other things.

Like many Georgia cities, Athens suffers from an affordable housing shortage, and the approval of the SPLOST 2020 could ultimately funnel almost $45 million in tax monies toward affordable housing projects and the public infrastructure they rely on — think roads, sidewalks, water mains, sewer lines and stormwater facilities.

Many housing experts attribute the wide-ranging shortage of affordable housing in part to a lack of public funding mechanisms. So could Atlanta, struggling with a major affordability crisis of its own, take a page from the Athens playbook to help dig itself out of the hole? Maybe. But other methods might be more feasible.

“The City of Atlanta really does need to find local sources of revenue to dedicate to affordable housing, as the Mayor pledged during her campaign,” Dan Immergluck, Georgia State University urban studies professor, told Saporta Report, adding, “Local dollars can then help leverage additional federal dollars.”

In an ideal world, Immergluck said, “a small increase in property taxes would be employed, combined with ensuring that commercial property owners are paying their fair share of taxes and stopping the excessive use of tax incentives for commercial and luxury projects.”

He’s nodding to private developments like the apartment project planned for 99 West Paces Ferry Road, in Buckhead, which will claim tax incentives and produce “workforce housing” units priced at between 130 and 150 percent of the area median income.

The Development Authority of Fulton County green-lit an incentives package in June that includes a $271 million bond issuance which could ultimately save the project’s developer, JLB Partners, roughly $3.35 million in taxes over ten years.

And since JLB Partners has been working on this project for years, the firm was able to circumvent an Atlanta ordinance that requires new residential developments vying for tax incentives to earmark some of their units for households making 80 percent of the area median income or less.

Immergluck said a SPLOST could be useful in Atlanta, but it would “generally be somewhat less progressive, with lower-income households paying a larger amount than under the property tax approach.”

Whether Atlanta voters have a palate for another SPLOST, considering how much the TSPLOST and Renew Atlanta bond programs have been contorted over the years, is another story altogether.

This story has been updated to better indicate the scope of the SPLOST program.

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