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Atlanta board OKs loans, tax breaks for affordable housing in six places

A sketch of City Lights Boulevard North A sketch of City Lights Boulevard North by Wingate Companies — with assistance from a city property tax break and other finance sources, all 88 units will be priced below market rates, probably from $1,250 to $2,050. (Credit: Special)

By Maggie Lee

An Atlanta board has approved property tax breaks worth $3.3 million over 10 years that will help pay for 272 new below-market-rate apartments.

The board also on Thursday approved low-interest loans that will help build or preserve another 698 mostly affordable apartments.

The six deals cover developments in neighborhoods from the Old Fourth Ward to the south and west as far as Mays, near Mays High School.

Rents will be as low as $610 for the most deeply subsidized studio apartment. At the highest end, a three-bedroom apartment might run about $2,050.

Each of the projects will also benefit from federal money and state tax credits, which means the low-priced units will stay low-priced for at least 15 years, and in some cases much longer.

It’s common enough for low-interest loans or property tax breaks to be approved for affordable housing developments by the board of Invest Atlanta. But six fairly big ones at the same time makes it a relatively busy month.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms campaigned in 2017 on a promise to get $1 billion invested in affordable housing, in a city that’s losing places for people to stay if they’re on the bottom half of the income ladder.

For more than a year now, Atlanta has been signalling it expects more public benefits from any developer who shows up for a property tax break. Those property tax breaks are delivered via what’s called a “lease-purchase bond.”

Matt Westmoreland, a member of the Invest Atlanta board, had given a preview of the Invest Atlanta meeting to his colleagues on Atlanta City Council earlier in the week.

The vast majority of the apartments on Invest Atlanta’s Thursday agenda are more deeply discounted than the bare minimum definition of “affordable” housing, he pointed out.

“That is what lease-purchase funds should be used for in the city of Atlanta, as well as to incentivize development on the south and west sides of our city,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland was actually presenting a resolution that urges Fulton County’s development authority to stop approving lease-purchase bonds in the city of Atlanta.

Earlier this month, that Fulton board gave preliminary approval for property tax breaks worth $11 million over 10 years to a mixed-use development on the BeltLine, an Atlantic Station hotel and Downtown student housing.

The three deals provoked anger intown from folks who aren’t trying to help pay for any new developments in hot neighborhoods, where they expect developers to arrive without a subsidy.

Making up those lost property taxes will fall on other home and business owners in the city, Westmoreland said.

Southeast Atlanta District 2 Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd signed onto Westmoreland’s resolution, as did all but one Councilmember.

Sheperd said that the Fulton County authority doesn’t interact with the local community, and has given tax breaks against the community’s wishes.

“How do we know what they’re doing if they don’t let us know?” Sheperd said, calling the Fulton body’s behavior arrogant and insulting. She said the Fulton development board should send information or go through Invest Atlanta.

Fulton’s development board uses property taxes in part to help evaluate projects. They want new projects to pay at least five times the property taxes of whatever they’re replacing. So by that measure, something like an Atlantic Station hotels wins: it will indeed pay more in sales taxes than the under-used lots it replaces.

Or that BeltLine housing, where the developer is removing tons of “potentially toxic” lime. Getting rid of that hazard is one reason why Fulton’s board gave a property tax break to a developer in a hot neighborhood.

But at this point, Atlanta’s thinking the builders will show up anyway.

Since January 2019, the Development Authority of Fulton County has been responsible for most of the property tax breaks authorized in Atlanta, and most have been for glitzy developments in Midtown, Buckhead and along the east and south BeltLine.

SaportaReport has been tracking and mapping those abatements here. The total value of those abatements over 10 years now comes to $230 million.

Documents:

Fact sheets from Sept. 17 meeting of Invest Atlanta:

ADA – Bridges at Landrum Lease Purchase Bonds Fact Sheet v.4

ADA – City Lights Boulevard North Lease Purchase Fact Sheet v.5

URFA Lakewood Christian Manor – Fact Sheet v.3

URFA – Towne West Manor Tax Exempt Loan Resolution v.5

URFA – Big Bethel Village Senior – Inducement Fact Sheet v.3

URFA – Villages at Castleberry Hill Phase II Fact Sheet v.5

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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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