Could '100 Great Ideas' help Atlanta shed its affordable housing crisis?

Southwest Atlanta restoration 2017

    The restoration of blighted homes could help boost the city’s affordable housing stock. Credit: David Pendered (2017)

By Sean Keenan

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to vanquish Atlanta’s daunting affordable housing crisis. Housing affordability — in Atlanta and many other major cities — is a complicated issue, and there are countless methods that municipal governments have tried to curb the problem.

At times, it can feel impossible to wrangle the powerful forces of gentrification — especially in Atlanta, where income inequality is rampant, housing prices are spiking, and longtime residents of historic neighborhoods are rapidly being priced out of their homes.

The best way to approach these matters might just be to ask the people most impacted by them. So says Tim Brock, program director of Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit focused on housing affordability. Teamed up with Florida-based Radical Partners, Enterprise took to social media to ask metro Atlantans what they see as the most important issues and most feasible solutions for replenishing the region’s dwindling affordable housing stock.

The partnership’s research, which resulted in the publication of a report entitled “100 Great Ideas Atlanta,” compiled input from nearly 900 Facebook users. “It was clear to us that [the participants] were people who were impacted by these issues and had something to say about it,” Block said in an interview Saporta Report.

The hundreds of responses from those who chimed in — almost half were from Fulton County — were boiled down into a list of 100 potential solutions to housing affordability-related obstacles.

In some cases, metro Atlantans called for initiatives already laid out by other budding efforts to address the crisis. “There is a lot of synergy with what we have in the ‘100’ and some other plans out there,” Brock said. “The House ATL recommendations that they put out, for example; the city’s new One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan that they put out. The key, though, is that this [report] came from the community.”

The 28-page report outlined proposals to, among other things, create new accessory dwelling units (ADUs), co-living spaces, and so-called tiny homes. It also presented suggestions for repurposing underutilized parking structures and blighted and/or vacant homes as affordable residences. And perhaps cities should nix parking minimums so surface lots could be used for housing development, some said.

Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting (left) with John Hope Bryant, CEO of nonprofit Operation HOPE. Credit: Maria Saporta

Meanwhile, U.S. Department of the Treasury officials are mulling how to update the federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), legislation adopted in 1977 that urges financial institutions to help people in low- and moderate-income areas get loans. A few weeks from now, the Trump administration’s Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting will unveil potential plans for CRA reform, he said in an interview with Saporta Report.

After a recent tour of Atlanta’s Westside, Otting said that the city — especially the neighborhood of Pittsburgh — is rife with opportunities to create new housing options. “There’s readily available housing that could be remodeled and restored to make it available to people — and to be able to do that in a way that low- to moderate-income people can afford,” he told Saporta Report. “You don’t often see, within miles of a downtown, the availability of that kind of housing.”

While Treasury officials work on that, the 100 Great Ideas Atlanta report is being condensed into a format that will be distributed to local officials throughout the metro Atlanta area. The short and sweet version of the study, expected to be ready in the next week or two, will present a prioritized list of housing affordability solutions, including using community land trusts and tax incentives to create and preserve affordable residences.

With the City of Atlanta losing some 1,500 affordable housing units annually, and sprouting luxury residences like weeds, time is of the essence. What fruits might be borne of Enterprise’s efforts, of course, remain to be seen.

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