Atlanta City Council would be Liliani Bakhtiari’s first elected office. She spoke to Saporta Report via email.
Q: What’s your No. 1 concern for your district specifically?
My biggest concern is the lack of proactive leadership in my district. Instead of waiting for living conditions to become bad enough for residents to come forward with them, we need to be working with residents to proactively tackle quality of life issues so that we can ensure intentional planning, smart development, and long-term sustainable infrastructure. This district has a lot of energy, with a huge amount of community engagement, and that potential is going untapped.
Our hard working families and small business owners deserve more than they are getting from Atlanta City Hall. District 5 needs a representative that is fully invested in making our neighborhoods safer, creating better jobs with benefits in our communities, fighting blight, and managing the improvement and expansion of our public transportation options.
One way that Councilwoman Archibong and I will differ is in the attention we pay to detail. We need someone that is present in the district, shows up to all neighborhood meetings, ALL council meetings, ALL committee meetings, ALL work sessions, and someone who is absolutely present for public comment. As our next Council member, I will craft a culture of accessibility around my office, and fight for even our quietest residents, so that we can build more inclusive neighborhoods and effectively serve everyone.
Q: What could you do as a Council member about that?
I know this sounds like a crazy out-of-left-field idea, but I believe you should show up and do the job that taxpayers are paying you to do. One of the reasons I decided to run for office was that all of my correspondence to my City Council member went unanswered. Every single phone call, every single email. That is unacceptable. I have had a rock-solid work ethic instilled in me from an early age. My father is a first-generation Iranian immigrant who opened and still runs a neighborhood pharmacy on Edgewood Avenue, in the district, across from the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Growing up, I worked every weekend there. I saw poverty firsthand, families struggling to support each other during tough times, and what a difference good community support can make. As our next City Council member, I will make showing up one of my hallmarks. I’m incredibly proud to say that I have been active in my district since I was a child. I want to be the Council member you can reach out and touch, that you see at your neighborhood cookouts and graduations, that is just as invested in the success of your family, small business, or neighborhood as you are. I plan on continuing to show up and listen once I am elected, and to redefine what accessibility looks like in local government.
Q: What’s an uncomfortable truth the next Council needs to face?
A: That we have invested millions and millions and millions of dollars into affordable housing to only be farther behind than when we started. We have lost 5 percent of our affordable housing every year since 2012. When we hear those numbers, it’s hard to place what that means for the people of our city. It means that our disabled residents and seniors on fixed incomes have been forced into assisted living or out of the city. It means that we have lost our artists, our service workers, our first responders, all because they cannot afford to stay in the city that they helped shape and keep running. As our population booms, and we look to bring in another million people by 2050, we are looking at a challenging game of catch up, with our residents’ livelihood on the line. We need to build affordable housing twice as fast as we have been building, over the next 50 years just to keep pace, and right now we are headed in the wrong direction.
Our city government should have safeguards in place for our workforce, groups making under $30,000 per year, and people on a fixed income, as well as a comprehensive plan for development and associated CBA [community benefits agreement] implementation via committees such as the Community Development/Human Services Committee, which seems to have fallen asleep on the job under current leadership.
Q: What’s something council has gotten right in the last four to eight years?
A: Protecting Atlanta’s economic growth, our reserved revenues, and our bond ratings. Atlanta under current city governance has been able to operate in the black, and this year passed a unanimous budget for the next fiscal year. Our “rainy day” fund is higher than it has been in years, which is absolutely a huge accomplishment.
Q: What’s something council has gotten wrong or failed to do in the last four to eight years?
A: Directly under the leadership of Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, the Atlanta City Council via the Community Development/Human Services Committee has fumbled the ball on enforcing the Atlanta Beltline provisions on affordable housing. It is the responsibility of that committee to work with communities to ensure that they receive CBA benefits, and to hold developers to the standards set forth under the Beltline Overlay District, especially when it comes to affordable housing.
Additionally, District 5 falls far behind other districts in addressing blighted homes and properties. I believe that is a direct result of our City Council member failing to push property holders toward development that will benefit our neighbors, alleviating known crime magnets in our neighborhoods.
As I previously stated, we have an uphill battle ahead of us when it comes to affordable housing, and our longtime incumbent politicians have only made the slope more slippery over the last term.
Q: Bottom line, overall, why should people vote for you? What’s your pitch to the voters?
A: I have a proven record of engagement, and results on a wide variety of social justice and infrastructure challenges that our community is currently facing. I have formed the necessary relationships with other candidates, city planners, APS [Atlanta Public Schools], Board of Education, Dekalb and Fulton counties, the state, and other community leaders, building an effective network for drafting informed and cohesive legislation in order to get things done in our city. As a small business owner and Grant Park homeowner, someone who has experienced financial hardship and homelessness, I know what it is to fight for our community. I believe our families and businesses deserve more than they have been getting from our City Council. As our next City Council member, I will fight every day to make sure we have more affordable housing units, better public transportation, a more equitable city across the board. I will devote myself to accessibility and transparency, fostering a culture of accountability in City Hall that is currently missing. Together, we can build a city that loves us back.