Atlanta’s new housing strategy renews focus on homes affordable to low- and mid-income workers
By David Pendered
Atlanta has created a five-year housing strategy that aims to spur $100 million in new residential investments and raise the city’s population by 42,000 residents.
The plan envisions a mix of rental and owner-occupied housing. It aims to increase the number of residences that are affordable to low- and middle-income earners, such as teachers, sales clerks and police officers.
Possible new strategies include micro units and community land trusts to provide housing at prices that don’t overwhelm low- and middle-income households. Atlanta’s median income for a one- or two-person household is $68,000 a year, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Atlanta would implement this vision by offering developers a mix of incentives, including tax incentives and expanded development opportunities, according to the 256-page report. A community development committee is to be created in the mayor’s office to implement the plan.
“The city of Atlanta attracts more businesses and residents every year, and we need a housing strategy to support this growth,” Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement released with the report.
“The strategy serves as a framework to ensure that current and prospective residents will have diverse and affordable housing options so that they can fully enjoy living, working and doing business in Atlanta,” Reed said. “It will expand the supply and improve the quality of housing offered in our city.”
Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, devised the housing strategy in collaboration with the Office of Housing and Housing Authority, HR&A Advisors, and Enterprise Community Partners. It is the first update in eight years, a period in which the country endured the great recession and Atlanta was among the top cities in terms of foreclosures.
The report notes that many of the city’s existing housing incentives have been expended. They include:
- Housing Opportunity Bond Fund – Started in 2007 with $35 million; 93 percent has been allocated to create nearly 2,100 residences; the annual debt payment from the city’s general fund is about $2.8 million.
- Atlanta BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund – All the money earmarked for affordable housing has been expended; the report does not appear to provide the sum.
- HOME Investment Partnership – Federal funding has decreased by 40 percent since 2010.
- Homelessness Opportunity Fund – 99.9 percent expended.
- Tax Exempt Bonds – Conventional taxable rates have been lower than tax exempt bonds, resulting in reduced demand from investors.
The report identifies three new strategies that it says can best help the city implement the plan. None of them is simple:
- Inclusionary Zoning – Require residential developers to provide a portion of the units at rates affordable to low- and middle-income earners; opposition would be expected from the development community.
- Expanded Tax Abatements – Would provide a long-term subsidy to help Atlanta meet housing goals; the lost property tax revenue would have to be offset by other sources in the city’s revenue stream.
- Priority Purchase of Tax Liens – Would enable the Land Bank to buy and renovate residences; opposition could arise from those who prefer the Fulton County tax commissioners to sell liens to the private market.
One potential quick-fix is probably a non-starter. A proposal that would have the Atlanta Public Schools participate in the city’s four newest tax allocation districts likely isn’t going anywhere in light of the negotiations over the amount the city owes the school district in regards to the BeltLine TAD.
The report identifies six metrics for measuring success. They are:
- “Grow Atlanta’s population by 10 percent (42,000) by2020.
- “Reduce the number of Atlanta low- and moderate-income households with paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing by 10 percent (7,500) by 2020.
- “Reduce the number of vacant structures by 20 percent (1,500) by 2020.
- “Produce or rehabilitate 10,000 residential units for a range of incomes, doubling the current rate of production,in redeveloping communities and job-rich areas by 2020.
- “Generate $100 milion in new investment to support part of the costs of these units by 2020.
- “Ensure that at least 10,000 new and rehabilitated units meet nationally recognized sustainability and energy efficient criteria by 2020.”