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City reveals affordable housing plan

Sarah Kirsch of ULI Atlanta addresses the crowd, including Mayor Bottoms (leftmost), at a press conference at Creekside at Adamsville. (Credit: Saporta Report)

By Sonam Vashi

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a plan today to steer city policy around affordable housing, targeted at fulfilling the 2017 campaign promise she made of $1 billion toward the issue.

“We recognize that a ‘one size fits all’ model will not address our challenges,” she said. “The reality is, no city has gotten this right. And in true Atlanta fashion, I truly believe we will be the first.”

The plan builds on the work of HouseATL, a group of public and private housing developers and advocates who released a plan for Mayor Bottoms’s approval last August, though there are many details still to come. (The report says the city is still “exploring” about a dozen of the action items in the plan.)

Sarah Kirsch of ULI Atlanta addresses the crowd, including Mayor Bottoms (leftmost), at a press conference at Creekside at Adamsville. (Credit: Saporta Report)

Here are the biggest takeaways:

  • The city’s goal is to create or preserve 20,000 affordable homes by 2026, which it will do by “leveraging existing funds and identifying new ones,” Mayor Bottoms said.
  • Create affordable housing across a spectrum of income levels, but will focus on those at 60% of the area median income—say, what a four-person family making $45,000 can afford—or below.
  • Develop currently vacant public land—much of which was former housing projects that the city tore down to make way for still-to-come mixed-income developments—into affordable housing. Some areas that the city has identified could yield 4,800 units, nearly half of which would be “affordable” at some level. Atlanta Housing, the city’s housing authority, will also maximize the use of its Section 8 vouchers—a policy that hasn’t been the case in years past.
  • Identify new sources of funding, like issuing more Housing Opportunity Bonds, or taxing vacant properties or short-term rentals like Airbnbs, the report says.
  • The city might revise the zoning code, perhaps by expanding its inclusionary zoning ordinance, which forces developers to set aside 10-15% of their rental units as affordable, or pay a fee. An expansion could include new houses on sale, particularly on the west side.
  • Encourage different types of housing, like “missing middle” housing—duplexes, townhomes—or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), like carriage houses or “tiny” houses, and reduce parking requirements for new developments.
  • Enact source-of-income discrimination protections in Atlanta: Landlords often choose not to rent to Section 8 voucher holders—who use the vouchers to help subsidize their rent—leaving the low-income residents to struggle to find housing. An anti-discrimination protection could help those voucher holders find housing.
  • Establish a Housing Innovation Lab to develop new, innovative approaches for affordable housing

Read the full plan here.

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Sonam Vashi

Sonam Vashi is an award-winning freelance journalist in Atlanta writing about affordable housing for Saporta Report. Her reporting, which usually focuses on criminal justice, equity, and the South, has also appeared with CNN, the Washington Post, Atlanta magazine, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. She is the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, and she grew up in Gwinnett County.

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