Fallout over lack of affordable housing along BeltLine includes Gravel’s testy tweet to Tech prof

By David Pendered

Knowledge of the lack of affordable housing along the Atlanta BeltLine, which was cited in the resignation Monday of two board members from the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, Inc., is not a new phenomenon. However, it has received renewed national attention of late.

beltline condo, 208 montag circle, 9:2016

A sale is pending on this $764,000 condo that says it is ‘steps away from the Beltline’ in Inman Park. The unit has 3,040 square feet and comes with three bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. Credit: highrises.com

The BeltLine’s shortage of affordable housing and social equity were noted in a Sept. 11 story in The New York Times; a Sept. 22 review of Ryan Gravel’s recent book by Georgia Tech Professor Daniel Immergluck in the Journal of the American Planning Assoc.; and in a Sept. 7 presentation to the Metro Atlanta Regional Housing Forum by the BeltLine’s senior housing policy director, James Alexander.

In addition, the lack of affordable housing and social equity along the BeltLine was documented in a 2013 report that was commissioned by the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and funded by the Ford Foundation. This report came after a study in 2007 by Immergluck that warned of displacement of current residents in some neighborhoods along the BeltLine corridor.

Gravel and another ABP board member, Nathaniel Smith, tendered their resignation to the board in a letter dated Monday. The letter cited concerns related to the lack of affordable housing and social equity in the BeltLine corridor. Three days before he resigned, Gravel engaged in a testy Twitter exchange with a Georgia Tech associate professor who praised Immergluck’s review of Gravel’s book.

Meanwhile, federal tax records show that ABP provided a total of $832,482 for its social mission during three fiscal years in which it raised a total of $18.6 million.

Gravel is listed as a board member for all three fiscal years. Smith was named to the board in December 2014, according to his linkedin page.

ABP’s social mission is described in a line item on the 990 forms from 2012, 2013, and 2014 that states:

  • atlanta beltline, 961 camilla street, 9:2016

    This home in a BeltLine neighborhood near Washington Park, a few blocks west of the Georgia Dome, was bought at auction in 2014 for $10,585 after selling for as much as $214,061 in 2007, according to Fulton County tax records. The home was built in 1920 and has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and covers 1,119 square feet. Credit: David Pendered

    “Social impact – catalyze the affordable housing, job creation, healthier living and other social objectives that comprise the Atlanta BeltLine vision.”

During the same three years, ABP provided $7.7 million to its parks and trails mission of buying land and developing parks and trails, according to the tax forms.

The tax filing for FY 2015 is not posted on guidestar.org, a national clearinghouse of tax forms for non-profits. The filings for the three prior years were dated Nov. 15 of the respective year. Had past procedure been followed, the FY 2015 form likely would have been dated Nov. 15, 2015.

This is the context in which Gravel and Smith announced their resignation from the board. Gravel and Smith also cited the abrupt departure of ABP’s executive director, Chuck Meadows. Meadows was named to the post in November 2014 and forced out of the post in July.

The shortage of affordable housing factored highly in the resignation letter that Gravel and Smith released:

  • “While there have been success stories that we can be proud of, our coalition’s progress has not been commensurate with the scale of the challenges at hand. The recent announcement of $7.5 million from TAD bonds, for example, will likely support fewer than 200 affordable units out of ABI’s obligation to 5,600 – it is a drop in the bucket when compared to the need. As the economy roars back to life and growth in the city accelerates, this work is increasingly urgent and we feel strongly that our attention must be channeled directly toward it.”
Ryan Gravel

Ryan Gravel

Here’s how the Atlanta BeltLine’s issues of affordable housing and social equity have been described in national publications:

The New York Times: A Glorified Sidewalk, and a Path to Transform Atlanta

  • “Gentrification fears are also widespread. The city has built only a small fraction of the 5,600 affording housing units it promised along the loop, largely because the recession from 2007 to 2009 depressed property values and lowered the revenue from a tax-increment funding plan.
  • “Officials at Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the quasi-governmental agency overseeing the project, have pointed to other plans they hope will keep low-income residents along the BeltLine. But some residents are skeptical in a city that has torn down nearly all of its traditional public housing complexes in recent years.”
  • “‘Instead of helping poor people around here fix up their property, they’re going to give them pennies on the dollar and they’re going to move,’ said Lena Shepard, 79, a shopper at a west side grocery store along the BeltLine.”
Nathaniel Smith

Nathaniel Smith

Journal of the American Planning Assoc. Immergluck reviews Gravel’s book, Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities:

  • “A second concern is the lack of substantial action on the issue of housing affordability and displacement. The Beltline has clearly helped spur an increase in property values and development, especially on the east side, but with these changes have come gentrification, rising rents, and higher property taxes for existing residents (Immergluck, 2009)….
  • “There is the question of the Beltline’s definition of affordable housing. It is calculated with a relatively high income threshold so that some subsidized developments are able to satisfy the requirements by providing small, $1,000-per-month studios, which are not cheap by Atlanta standards and not affordable to households with incomes lower than 50 percent of the area median income where the need is the greatest. Meanwhile, thousands of high-end luxury units have sprouted up near the Beltline, often with rents exceeding $2,000 to $3,000 per month, particularly on the east side, causing land values to spike, which has made the preservation of existing affordable housing extremely difficult.
  • “The book does include a chapter on equity, which feels a bit like an addendum. There is almost no mention of housing affordability or displacement until this chapter, which is 195 pages into a 225-page book. Even here, there are few ideas about what could have been done differently to secure affordability and prevent displacement. Instead, it touts the Beltline’s existing programs and policies, which have little to show for themselves.”
atlanta beltline, gravel tweets, sept 2016

Ryan Gravel, who wrote his masters thesis at Tech about a concept that became the Atlanta BeltLine, engaged in a Twitter exchange with a Georgia Tech assistant prof who has his doctorate and whose masters these is titled, “Near-Roadway Air Quality: Meta-Analysis and Mitigation.” Credit: twitter, inc., alexkarner.com

Gravel engaged in a Twitter exchange regarding the review with Alex Karner, an assistant professor of transportation planning at Georgia Tech who earned his doctorate in 2012 in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California at Davis. Karner tweeted that Immergluck’s review, “is on point. Equity implications an after thought.”

Gravel’s response was: “Says people who weren’t there.”

Incidentally, in 2007 Immergluck wrote a study for Georgia Stand Up titled, The Beltline and Rising Home Prices: Residential Appreciation Near the Beltline Tax Allocation District and Policy Recommendations to Minimize Displacement.

The executive summary contains this observation:

  • “This report offers evidence that taxes and rents are rising and causing displacement in the neighborhoods around the proposed Beltline. Given the extent of value appreciation in many places near the TAD, more vigorous and comprehensive policies are needed to reducing and respond to problems caused by rapidly increasing housing costs, especially for low- and moderate-income residents.
  • “[T]he analysis provides strong evidence that the planning and publicity surrounding the Beltline project beginning in 2003 has increased residential appreciation near the south side of the Beltline TAD compared to the appreciation rates of homes located farther from the Beltline.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

12 replies
  1. RDHanson says:

    Inman Park has always, except for a few rough decades, been one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Atlanta. Seems like affordable housing should be built in more affordable neighborhoods, or extend the trail system to more affordable neighborhoods. Northwest Atlanta, for instance.Report

    Reply
  2. letmesaythis says:

    RDHanson

    Inman Park community decline began in the 1940s and progressively got so bad banks would not write mortgages on the once stately homes. 
    That decline did not begin to exhibit significant signs of recovery till the late 1990s. 
    I would hardly call that “a few rough decades.” 
    I would call it 50 years of urban decay. 

    Inman Park and the surrounding neighborhoods have roared back to life with staggering home valuations and a plethora of shopping and dining options for its ‘perceived’ well-heeled residents. 

    Please, I beg of you, before making such narrow, shallow, myopic and uniformed comments, with your name and face attached, do a bit of Googling on the text book definition of “affordable housing” in the context of “urban planning.” 
    Additionally, research the history of the community which you are so proud to call home and unable to share with ‘perceived’ low class people who might teach your children, police your streets and be viable candidates for “affordable housing.”Report

    Reply
    • Maria Saporta
      Maria Saporta says:

      RD Hanson, we can make our points without making personal attacks. Let’s not call folks narrow, shallow, myopic and uniformed. But let’s do our best to inform each other and exchange ideas for the good of the overall community. Thanks for your understanding. MariaReport

      Reply
  3. Akazia J Hunt says:

    Chad I’m guessing you are a newbie. I’ve watch this stuff unfold for 25 years. The plan and the contextual reality night and day. Btw, everyone that wants and needs affordable housing is not eligible for Section 8.Report

    Reply
  4. John Ingersoll says:

    You could’ve predicted this: a scholar-visionary gets overtaken by developers. The house pictured for $764K will become a normal price if it isn’t already.Report

    Reply
  5. Jimmy Day says:

    Ridiculous. Where were the people complaining ten years ago when affordable property along the Beltline was everywhere? Now that it’s blown up, they’re entitled to own in the hottest area on the cheap? Let’s get real. You have to have the vision and take the plunge before the masses if you don’t want to get priced out. Now is the time to be selling in that area, not buying!Report

    Reply
  6. JWK says:

    Does anyone really believe that “affordable” housing is best placed ALONG the Beltline in any location? Street level retail, small business, technology, art studios, bars and dining yes…but not housing. If there is available land in close proximity deed it over to Habitat and let them get busy building affordable housing. If the land and opportunity made enough sense, why can’t Habitat build multi-unit dwellings and call them…Condominiums??? Keep the same ownership/equity model in place. This isn’t rocket science.Report

    Reply
  7. Cliff Albright says:

    I worked with the org that sponsored the 2007 Immegluck report and I regularly attended the Beltline Affordable Housing Board’s meetings as they were defining what the affordability goals and guidelines would be. The resulting failures on affordable housing were absolutely predictable. It was designed to fail, and there’s a *lot* of folks who were complicit.Report

    Reply

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