By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council has approved legislation to provide tax breaks to build or preserve workforce housing anywhere in the city, specifically in high-demand areas, rather than only in blighted neighborhoods.
The effort is part of the city’s broader agenda to address the growing shortage of housing. Atlanta, like cities across the country, is experiencing record price hikes for dwellings in both the for-sale and rental sectors due, in part, to a supply shortage.
The City Council voted Monday to adopt two measures that revise an economic development incentive named the Atlanta Urban Enterprise Zone. The primary paper was enabled by a law passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2021.
A significant change relates to property tax breaks for what the paper describes as workforce housing. It involves the city’s ability to provide tax abatements to induce the development or retention of workforce housing. The new code also addresses EZ for commercial districts.
The revised criteria for establishing a residential EZ states: “The city shall provide special urban enterprise zone designations for the creation and preservation of workforce housing units, especially in areas with strong real estate markets. To mitigate against the concentration of poverty, lack of access to opportunity, long commutes, and excessive cost burdens, the city shall provide for special designation of workforce housing enterprise zones anywhere in the city. The city shall utilize evidence-based and state-of-the-practice methods to determine the optimum location for workforce housing enterprise zones.”
This language replaces criteria for establishing a residential EZ that required the poverty level in the proposed EZ to be at least double the rate in Fulton County; the unemployment rate must be at least double that of Fulton County, and the total population in the census tract must be under 1,000, according to the Atlanta Code of Ordinances.
Josh Humphries, Atlanta’s director of housing and community development, presented the papers to the council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee on March 1. Humphries described the legislation as a routine update of city policy to implement the law the General Assembly enacted last year. The committee approved the papers unanimously and without discussion. The council adopted it Monday without debate.
The revisions to the EZ program were initiated during the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan offered a number of approaches intended to provide or protect a total of 20,000 dwellings by 2026.
House Bill 757 enabled Atlanta to amend its charter to complete the first major revision of the EZ program since it was established in 1988, according to the bill and city code.
Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) was the lead sponsor of HB 757. It was not contested and sailed through the Legislature, having been introduced on March 15, 2021, and signed by the governor on May 3, 2021. Nguyen now is a candidate for secretary of state.
Another component of the mayor’s housing program did generate considerable opposition. The city’s proposed revision of the long-range plan initially would have allowed accessory dwelling units to be built in existing neighborhoods. Residents protested and the City Council adopted a scale-back version of the plan.