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Beltline CEO: “Missing middle jobs” key to fostering equitable growth, affordability

Sean Keenan
An image of the Beltline trail snaking through apartment developments.

Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel and numerous housing experts are supporting the notion that Atlanta needs to embrace “missing middle housing” options in preparation for the impending population boom.

That means the city, as it stares down the barrel of an influx that could double the population over the next two decades, should welcome housing options like traditional townhomes, row-houses and brownstones, Gravel wrote in a blog post early last year.

Few and far between, though, are conversations about “missing middle jobs,” the kinds of positions accessible to folks without college degrees who could occupy some of these residences.

During Tuesday’s House ATL Task Force meeting, Beltline CEO Clyde Higgs said boosting the amount of missing middle jobs is crucial for fostering equity and sustainable affordability along the popular multi-use trail, which has become notorious for spurring development that drives up property values and, in many cases, prices long-time Atlantans out of their homes.

Higgs told Saporta Report that project officials have been asking, “can the Beltline be a laboratory for recruiting companies to bring in key jobs that perhaps don’t require a Master’s degree to access?”

People often forget that the monumental trail project also entails a major job creation component, he said. Many of those jobs come in the form of construction work, and the Beltline has already created more than 30,000 temporary construction jobs since its inception.

However, by the end of 2030, Beltline officials hope to have brought some 30,000 permanent jobs to areas along the 22-mile loop-to-be, Higgs said.

Job creation, he said, “is part of that holistic approach to affordability.” “The [5,600-unit affordable housing goal] is important, but so is bringing jobs.”

Of course, creating accessible jobs and affordable dwellings is something of a balancing act, too.

As of September, nearly 1,000 affordable units were in the Beltline’s housing pipeline, officials told Saporta Report.

Officials also say rentals that count toward the Beltline’s 5,600-unit affordability goal can be priced as high as 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), whereas ownership units created can run up to 120 percent of the AMI.

And while 120 percent of the AMI might not strike the average resident as affordable, it’s important to note that mortgages are calculated differently than rent prices, Higgs said.

“When you talk about 120 percent AMI, and you start rolling that as a mortgage, it feels like it’s closer to 80 percent [AMI]. That’s why it’s not 80 percent AMI [or less] across the board,” he said.

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