Atlanta’s urban renewal, economic mobility programs to face more oversight
By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council is poised to secure greater control over the city’s largest and most successful urban renewal program, in addition to the city’s sweeping programs that aim to promote economic mobility and equity for city residents.
The Eastside TAD is one persistent friction point to be addressed by the deal. No longer will a mayor be able to arbitrarily propose the end of the Eastside TAD, or any of the city’s 10 tax allocation districts, and redirect its revenues to fund other programs. A new process calls for an outside consultant to review each TAD every three years. The consultant is to advise if a TAD’s goals have been substantially completed, and this report is to inform any decision by the mayor and council to close a TAD.
Economic mobility and equity is addressed through the inclusion of specific performance criteria as outlined by Invest Atlanta in its July 14 presentation to a city council committee. The report, One Atlanta: Economic Mobility, Recovery and Resiliency Plan, extends the One Atlanta vision statement established by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
New terms for the oversight of these two programs, redevelopment and economic mobility, are slated to be approved Monday. The agreement is between the city and the Atlanta Development Authority, the city’s development arm that does business under the name of Invest Atlanta.
Invest Atlanta administers publicly funded subsides that are used to promote urban renewal and jobs that pay living wages.
Eloisa Klementich, Invest Atlanta’s president and CEO, said the agreement covers issues the council has raised in three separate measures dating back to 2018. As she presented the proposal Sept. 15 to the council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee, Klementich said the document contains the following provisions, which include a reporting schedule specified in three pages at the end of the agreement:
- Invest Atlanta is to submit a total of 35 reports a year; 10 are new reports;
- Of the 35 reports, 21 deal with economic development and eight are new; the remaining 14 reports deal with economic mobility and two are new;
- The 35 reports are to be delivered on a published schedule to recipients including the city clerk; city CFO and the council’s Finance/Executive Committee; Planning Department; chief housing officer; the council’s Community Development/Human Services Committtee; Grants Management; some are to be posted on the Invest Atlanta website;
- Every TAD expenditure of $100,000 or more must be approved by the Invest Atlanta board;
- Terms of the agreement between the city and Invest Atlanta are reduced from 10 years to five years, compared to previous agreements;
- An economic mobility strategy is included;
- A disparity study conducted in 2019 is included;
- A salary survey is included, “to ensure the city and Invest Atlanta are in line with industry standards.”
The effort to reach this agreement has been underway, “in earnest,” for the past 14 months to 15 months, according to Atlanta City Councilmember Matt Westmoreland, who chairs the council’s Community Development and Human Services Committee. Westmoreland serves on Invest Atlanta’s board through his position as chair of CDHS.
“I’m very proud and excited,” by the prospects of the new agreement, Westmoreland said before the committee voted unanimously to endorse the proposed agreement and send it for a council vote.
The TAD is one program specifically targeted for greater accountability. It works by shearing all property taxes off new developments within specific a geographic boundary, and spending that money within the boundary on public infrastructure including roads and sidewalks.
Atlanta’s TAD program is one of the nation’s larger issuers of bonds for this type of redevelopment, a study found. Eighteen percent of the city’s tax base is contained in a TAD, a figure that has grown from 10 percent as TAD funding has attracted development, the study showed. The tax revenues on these developments are at issue as the city, Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County look for revenues to pay for their programs; the most common target for Atlanta mayors, including Keisha Lance Bottoms and Kasim Reed, has been the Eastside TAD, which covers the eastern area of Downtown Atlanta.
Atlanta’s TADs have funded $518 million in debt sold through 2015 to help refurbish blighted neighborhoods, according to the most recent independent analysis of the program, a research paper issued in 2016 by Georgia State University.
The use and results of these funds have been, for years, a friction point between the council and Invest Atlanta. Atlanta’s mayor chairs the Invest Atlanta board.
Although the council has sought to pressure Invest Atlanta to provide more information to the council by curbing the city’s financial support for Invest Atlanta, conflicts have simmered. The city provided $3 million to Invest Atlanta in the budget year that started July 1, the same amount as in the prior year, according to an Invest Atlanta budget presentation.
The economic mobility component of the new agreement sets the foundation for specific benchmarks of success that can be measured in an objective fashion.
The July 14 presentation sets benchmarks to be met over a three-year period. Benchmarks include:
- Create or retain 6,000 jobs that are “good,” defined as a salary of $40,000 to $80,000 with employer-paid health insurance; or “promising,” defined as an entry level job with a clear path to a “good” job within 10 years;
- Support 900 small businesses, half of them with no more than nine employees, and 70 percent of them owned by women or minorities;
- Attract at least one national community development financial institution to a neighborhood.