Atlanta told HUD in May of its plans for more affordable housing
By David Pendered
Atlanta notified the federal government in May that it is pursuing policies to remove barriers to affordable housing, according to a report required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Approaches to implement the policies include the city’s pending proposals to allow more residences to be built in residential neighborhoods. This part of the plan has generated measurable opposition, prompting Atlanta’s policy makers to step back.
In a section of the report to HUD that asks about, “Actions taken to remove or ameliorate the negative effects of public policies that serve as barriers to affordable housing such as land use controls, tax policies affecting land, zoning ordinances…,” Atlanta responded that it began making such changes in 2018:
- “The updates consist of a range of zoning ‘fixes’ that include solutions to increasing housing diversity, reducing parking requirements, and allowing greater density to increase the overall supply of housing….”
Incidentally, these changes are in keeping with a $5 billion grant program the Biden administration announced June 1. Grants, if funded, would be available to governments that make the types of changes in housing development policies Atlanta contemplates.
The purpose of the report required by HUD is for Atlanta to list the city’s use of federal grant fund for affordable housing, homeless prevention, housing for people with AIDS, and related efforts to help lower-income individuals and neighborhoods – the Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report.
In the section on “actions taken to remove .. barriers to affordable housing,” the city highlighted one change regarding residential density, which it described as a “notable component” of the 2018 zoning update.
Atlanta revised a regulation regarding the number of houses allowed in a zoning category that allowed dwellings for one and two families, and for multifamily developments such as apartments. Although houses were allowed, the minimum lot size restricted the number of houses that could be built. The city reduced the minimum lot size to allow lots of 1,000 square feet, with a minimum 20-foot width and zero lot line. An acre covers 43,560 square feet.
Now, the city is in the process of applying these policies on density to the revision of the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan for the entire city. Adoption is set for October, by the Atlanta City Council, and the CDP must be delivered to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Debate over the proposals for more units in existing neighborhoods of houses has roiled since January. Complaints over proposals for increased density residential neighborhoods resulted in the city announcing July 27 that it was backing off some density proposals.
Three examples of density proposals that were removed from the revised draft were a plan to allow homeowners to sell a portion of their lot for construction of another residence; the elimination minimum lot sizes; and the elimination of a required parking space for each house.
However, these proposals have not been completely eliminated from potential incorporation into the plan. Atlanta planners noted, in an appendix to the main report, that they will continue to campaign for such measures in the time remaining before a final CDP is adopted in October, and after its adoption – as the CDP is implemented into the rewrite of zoning codes.
The city’s efforts to promote residential density comport with President Biden’s policies to promote affordable housing.
Biden’s most recently announced plan, on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, was the $5 billion Unlocking Possibilities Program, as part of the American Jobs Plan. The competitive grant program would award funding to governments that take steps to promote affordable housing, such as relaxing zoning laws, reducing parking requirements and ending minimum lot sizes.
In a June 1 statement, Biden announced:
- “Today, on the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing new steps to help narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies.”
The statement announced, without elaboration:
- “$5 billion for the Unlocking Possibilities Program, an innovative new grant program that awards flexible and attractive funding to jurisdictions that take steps to reduce needless barriers to producing affordable housing and expand housing choices for people with low or moderate incomes.”