By Sean Keenan

Snagged by the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta’s much-anticipated housing opportunity bond program could be nearing passage. But some proponents of the initiative say the proposal first needs to be tweaked to foster wealth creation. 

“We can’t forget about wealth-building tools,” said Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland, nodding to funding that he said should be allocated toward things like single-family housing development and down payment assistance.

Today, the $100 million housing opportunity bond program — nicknamed the “Building the Beloved Community” housing affordability initiative — is making its way through the city council’s Community Development and Human Services (CD/HS) committee, which Westmoreland chairs. 

It’s only the latest iteration of the bond program, which has morphed multiple times during the public health crisis. 

In March, city officials boosted the proposal to be worth $200 million, with $70 million allocated to multifamily loans, $60 million dedicated to single-family development and rehab and $8.5 million set aside for down payment assistance, among other allotments.

But in April, with the pandemic throttling the economy near and far, municipal leaders had to put the bond program on hold. When Westmoreland and his council colleagues resurrected the proposal, its value was bumped back down to $100 million, and it had been stripped of wealth-creation mechanisms. 

Now, though, folks like Westmoreland and multiple members of the Atlanta Housing Commission want to ensure those components are written back into the legislation. 

“I have heard loud and clear that people want down payment assistance and other wealth-building levers as part of this initiative,” the councilman said in a recent interview with SaportaReport

Additionally, in a letter to the council, organizations such as the Atlanta Land Trust, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership and Mercy Housing Southeast requested elected officials increase the portion of the funds dedicated to helping nonprofits provide affordable housing from 10 to 20 percent. 

All these changes are likely to be addressed during next week’s CD/HS meeting, Westmoreland said. Once the program clears a CD/HS vote, it would be bound for the Finance and Executive committee, then move to a full-council vote, then hit Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ desk.

Westmoreland, who said he’s looking for revenue sources to back the bond program so the city’s general fund doesn’t have to, said he expects the package to be approved in “coming weeks.”

(Header image, via Kelly Jordan: Atlanta City Hall)

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