Atlanta Housing unveils its plan for the next five years
By Mark Lannaman
The City of Atlanta’s department of housing, Atlanta Housing (AH), revealed last month how it plans to move forward for the next five years. One of the biggest takeaways is the plan’s focus on people and housing affordability — a hot topic of late as rents continue to increase faster than wages — a 16 percent housing increase in Metro Atlanta compared to 3.1 percent for wages in 2021.
The Strategic Plan included six key goals:
- Create or Preserve 10,000 Affordable Housing Units
- Enhance Housing Assistance Resources for Atlantans in Need
- Create Opportunities for Individuals, Families, and Children to Thrive
- Build or Expand Partnerships to Pool Resources and Maximize Impact for the Benefit of Families
- Communicate the Impact of AH’s Work to Atlanta
- Strengthen Atlanta Housing Operations
The goals are people-first, says Larry Stewart, Chair of the Board of Commissioners for Atlanta Housing.
“We think that our work is about rebuilding neighborhoods, and taking them from unhealthy to healthy,” said Stewart.
Creating and Preserving
The plan divides that 10,000 affordable units evenly between creation and preservation — 5,000 each.
A majority of the identified sites for creating the 5,000 affordable units come from previously demolished – and now vacant – federal housing sites, said Terri Lee, Chief Operating Officer for Atlanta Housing. Most were demolished in the late 90’s or early 2000’s.
“What we’re working on is how do we increase and mobilize very quickly the opportunity to redevelop our former public housing sites that are vacant?” said Lee.
The vacant sites will now site mixed-income developments that officials say will aid the department’s goal in achieving that figure for affordable housing.
Former public housing projects like Bowen Homes and Herndon Homes were cited as examples of this kind of repurposing of once-public housing land. Bowen’s potential for revitalization in particular was made possible by a federal grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Bowen is what we would call a choice-neighborhood site… The Transformation Planning Grant positions us to move forward with the redevelopment of not just the site but also the surrounding community,” said Lee. “With choice-neighborhoods, we focus on people, housing and neighborhoods.”
Stewart cited Bowen as an example of the potential kind of redevelopment of a neighborhood from unhealthy to healthy, and hopefully a model for future projects.
Around 825 of the 2000 — about 41 percent — units for the mixed use site will be affordable, according to AH The units will include both rental and home-ownership based.
The plan detailed sites and the degree of priority, as of Dec. 2022.
The first in the nation
Atlanta was the first major city in the United States to have public housing in the early 20th century. Since then, it has demolished nearly all of it.
Lately, it has been trending in the direction of mixed-income developments. Some are skeptical, however, saying these developments invite gentrification that prices out low-income and longtime legacy Atlantans, do not set enough units aside as affordable or simply do a poor job of defining what “affordable” means. AH aims that residents do not pay more than 30 percent of their income towards housing.
Others champion these developments, saying they revitalize otherwise vacant or blighted neighborhoods, citing the state of the neighborhood before development.
“We were aware and knowledgeable and understand the impact that gentrification and displacement has had in the city of Atlanta, and we also know that we have residents that have labored in these communities, and they should have the opportunity to benefit as the communities enter their own level of resurgence,” said Lee.
Lee cited AH’s second goal as an intentional effort to combat this displacement. She also pointed out that creation and preservation of affordable housing is not one or the other.
“I believe we have to be active and mobilize every tool we have,” said Lee. Creation
AH isn’t alone in creating affordable units, either, Stewart said, acknowledging that while AH is a force within the city, private entities have the opportunity to do so as well.
In alignment with the mayor’s vision
One of the biggest goals of developing the plan was ensuring that it aligned with the mayor’s vision of housing in Atlanta, says Lee.
“It’s not just about building a house anymore. I think [Larry] spoke about linking it to the mayor’s goal of being intentional in creating thriving neighborhoods. It’s really about being very intentional and focused on creating a sense of place and weaving it into the fabric of a neighborhood, and being able to uplift it at the same time,” Lee said.
Stewart says AH is also being intentional in honoring the legacy of communities where they work, and hopefully welcoming back residents who used to call it home should they desire to return.
Invest in people
A couple policies dictate affordability in Atlanta, according to Lee: a public subsidy ordinance, the inclusionary zoning ordinance in select areas. AH says that this, coupled with intentionality from the organization on doing projects for the public good, will set the tone for affordability in the city,.
It’s essential to set the tone, says Stewart, because Atlanta has long been a destination for people due to its affordability. Without careful planning, says Stewart, that can go away.
Communicating this is key, says Stewart, because if the diversity that attracted so many businesses here in the first place is gone, so will those businesses.
“We want to start communicating that — and this comes back to the communicating goal — it’s not only moral and ethical or charitable [to develop affordable housing], but actually to your bottom line, it’s important for you to invest in the city and its livability,” said Stewart.
In other words: invest in people, Lee said.
AH hopes that through this plan and other efforts, they can instill trust in the residents of the city by remaining transparent and giving residents the opportunity to hold the accountable in their projects for affordability for the next five years.
Its really unfortunate that AHA was run poorly all those years, then evolved into a demolition coordinator with no direct plan firmly in place to go forward with. At this point, the units should be 100% affordable and federally subsidized as the prior communities were. There are ways to do so without allowing the communities to become downtrodden as well. The underwhelming plan currently isnt going to cut it.Report
Encouraging ideas and a great start. Good luck with this.Report