Former Mayor Shirley Franklin says planned housing bond on hold; others differ
By David Pendered
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said the city’s planned housing bond is dead in the water, a casualty of revenue shortfalls anticipated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At least two members of the Atlanta City Council may beg to differ.
“The city had identified a revenue stream, but we’ve seen that be put completely on hold,” Franklin said in an April 30 panel discussion convened by The Volcker Alliance and Penn Institute for Urban Research.
Politics are rarely that simple. Nor did the former mayor suggest they are. The politics of affordable housing is that it became an issue in the 2017 city elections, and is likely to be an issue again, in the 2021 city elections.
The evening before the mayor spoke at the Volcker/Penn event, two members of the Atlanta City Council spoke in favor of selling a housing bond despite uncertainty stemming from the pandemic. Uncertainty was a reason Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms cited in withdrawing the housing bond proposal from the council’s consideration.
Councilmembers Matt Westmoreland and Michael Julian Bond observed that the shortage of housing in the city, housing that’s affordable on the salaries of schoolteachers, has to be addressed – and the city is the entity to address it.
Westmoreland called for a $100 million housing bond. This amount is half the $200 million sum that was approved in March by a council committee that Westmoreland chairs. The $100 million figure is the one recommended in February by Bottom’s administration.
Speaking at a meeting on affordable housing hosted by CityRootsATL on April 29, in comments endorsed by Bond, Westmoreland said:
- “This housing bond has to move forward. We need to get creative about how to fund it. [inaudible]. The general fund is precarious, but if we want to do it we will. And we will always find the resources for what we really want. We need to get it done and get it done now.”
There’s no disagreement between Franklin and the two councilmembers over the policy question of a long-term borrowing to finance a housing program, and paying it back with money from the general fund. They endorse it.
The councilmembers want to issue now the same type of bond Franklin championed when she was in office; the city sold a $35 million housing bond during her administration that was backed by the general fund. In addition, Franklin made public remarks in 2016 for the city to begin a program of issuing housing bonds of about $40 million every four years or so, back by the general fund. She spoke at the 25th anniversary of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, at which she received an ANDP award named for former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.
Franklin said Jackson used a similar step-by-step funding strategy, and ended up developing the world’s busiest passenger airport. Franklin’s support in 2016 for housing bonds came long before affordable housing hit the radar screen in the 2017 campaigns.
Franklin also has experience when the budget won’t cover the essentials of local government. During her two-term administration the city managed shortfalls with measures including:
- Closing Atlanta City Hall every Friday to reduce payroll and other expenses;
- Laying off 1,000 workers, and trying to help some find jobs;
- Raising property taxes by 42 percent.
These strict measures have attuned Franklin to governing through the type of revenue shortfall that could come with the pandemic. The decisions aren’t easy, she said.
“In Atlanta, we could not avoid layoffs,” she said during the Volcker/Penn event. “What we had to do was manage the layoffs. … It wasn’t a pretty picture.”