Atlanta-backed plan to waive impact fees on affordable housing advances in Legislature
By David Pendered
Impact fees on affordable housing could be waived under a statewide bill that’s endorsed by Atlanta and has been passed by the state Senate. Meantime, the potential state takeover of Atlanta’s airport is in a holding pattern, according to a presentation Wednesday by the city’s chief lobbyist.
The affordable housing measure is backed by Senate leadership – the Senate pro tem and the chairs of two committees. All three have signed the legislation.
Such high-level support traditionally gives a proposal added heft during consideration in the other chamber. Another consequence of the support of leadership is the bill’s potential weight as a bargaining chip in consideration of unrelated legislation.
A sense of urgency surrounds the measure in Atlanta.
For starters, members of the Atlanta City Council have said they want to raise impact fees, which are one-time fees assessed on new developments to offset a development’s impact on transportation, police and fire, and parks. Fees haven’t been changed since 1993. The timeline for a review of the fee structure involves, “Updating the program” by July 2020, according to a plan released in November 2019 by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration.
In addition, Atlanta is in the midst of a broad-based effort to increase the number of residences affordable to those earning the salary of public school teachers. The latest example is the pending six-month development moratorium in the gold-rush neighborhoods around the future Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry; the cool-down period is to give the city time to consider measures regarding transportation and affordable housing in the area.
Senate Bill 322 won Senate approval Feb. 21 and is pending in the House Governmental Affairs Committee.
The current version of SB 322 provides an incentive for developers to build dwellings affordable to those earning the salary of a public school teacher.
The provision waives impact fees:
- “[I]f a development project creates affordable housing and meets the requirements of paragraph (2) of this subsection, then a municipal or county development impact fee ordinance may waive the requirements of this paragraph;”
The measure offers protections for other developers. Governments would be barred from raising impact fees on other projects to recoup the loss of income from developments of affordable housing on which impact fees were waived:
- “[I]f a municipality or county waives the requirements of this paragraph for a project that creates affordable housing, the municipality or county is prohibited from increasing development impact fees on other projects for the sole purpose of offsetting the loss of development impact fee revenue resulting from the exempted affordable housing project.”
Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) is the second signer of SB 322. Two Senate committee chairs have signed – the lead sponsor is Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), head of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee; and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), head of the Finance Committee. Democratic sponsors include three from Atlanta – Sen. Nan Orrock, Sen. Nikema Williams and Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta).
The city’s lobbyists are monitoring two bills related to a state takeover, or increased control of, the city’s airport, Fatimot Ladipo, Atlanta’s director of intergovernmental affairs, told the Finance Committee of the Atlanta City Council during her legislative update Wednesay. Ladipo did not elaborate on the posture of the bills – Senate Bill 131 and House Bill 447.
SB 131 has been passed by both chambers. Differences in the versions that were passed would have to be resolved before each chamber would have to vote again on the reconciled version of the bill.
HB 447 has been passed by the House and is pending in the Senate Finance Committee. Of note, the Finance Committee is chaired by a co-signer of the affordable housing legislation, SB 322.
The impact fees that could be waived if SB 322 becomes law are sizable. Here are the rates charged in Atlanta and in Sandy Springs:
- Sandy Springs charges $4,543.67 for each house, apartment or townhouse, according to the city’s rate structure.
- Atlanta established three rate structures for parks, evidently to offset the varying cost of land in different parts of the city. The fee in Northside is $410 per house and $285 for an apartment or townhouse. The fee in Westside and Southside is $246 per house and $171 for an apartment or townhouse, according to the city’s rate structure.