By Mark Lannaman
In late March Mayor Andre Dickens joined Atlanta Land Trust (ALT) in a groundbreaking ceremony for a project in East Lake that will bring 40 affordable townhomes over its lifetime.
The Trust at East Lake will be “permanently affordable” according to the ALT. This is made possible by the two-acre land donation from the CF Foundation, along with financial and logistical support from numerous groups named in their press release.
“The Trust at East Lake development is a result of the hard work of a group of public-private partners who share my commitment to ensuring that everyone in Atlanta has access to safe, quality, and affordable housing. This project is more than just a construction site, it’s a symbol of hope and progress for our community,” Mayor Dickens wrote in a Linkedin post.
Amanda Rhein, executive director of Atlanta Land Trust, says this comes at a time when housing affordability is desperately needed.
“The demand for housing far exceeds the supply. The cost of housing increases while wages are fairly stagnant. So the need for affordable housing continues to grow every year,” Rhein said.
The project has been a long time in the making — four years, to be exact.
“CF Foundation owned this two-acre site, and they recognized there was a need for affordable homeownership opportunities with the East Lake neighborhood — particularly for residents who had been living in affordable rental housing, but who, if they wanted to matriculate to homeownership, had no options within that neighborhood,” Rhein said.
The groundbreaking ceremony was an opportunity to recognize all those who have helped usher this project along, as well as honor the history of the East Lake community.
Rhein says a goal is to ensure that housing costs are no more than 30 percent of the household income — how the federal government defines it.
“If you spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, you are cost burdened and your housing is not affordable. So affordability is specific to the individual,” Rhein said.
In order to recognize affordability as a changing metric per individual, ALT is setting aside specific units for certain brackets of income.
“ALT aims to make half of the units affordable to families making at or below 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) — $68,960 for a family of four. The balance of units will be affordable to families making between 80 and 120 percent of AMI,” ALT wrote in their press release.
This means half of the units will be priced at or below 30 percent of the household income for families who make at or below 80 percent of the area median income. Priority will be for those who earn between 60 and 80 percent of the AMI, Rhein said.
ALT emphasized it’s not enough to start affordable and spiral to unaffordable prices, which is why the community land trust model that ALT employs is a critical part of ensuring permanent affordability. Many affordable units are lost to expiring affordability requirements that began when they were built, meaning the portion of affordable housing required at the time for a tax break or public funding can now be brought to market rate levels.
This, along with affordable units being driven up quickly in areas of high gentrification, make community land trusts all the more valuable as a tool for affordable housing.
The land trust model
Community land trusts work by dual-ownership arrangements. Homeowners purchase the home, while the land beneath remains owned by the community land trust. In this way, land trusts have the power to determine who moves in or out of the home on the plot of land and can regulate the price the home sells for the next time it’s on the market, with the underlying goal of keeping the home affordable.
Often, community land trusts will allow the homeowners selling to make a modest profit, but overall rates tend to be lower than the surrounding area.
Since its founding in 2009, Atlanta Land Trust has operated using this model with the hopes of being part of the solution to declining housing affordability in the city.
Rhein acknowledges it can’t be the only path forward, though.
“We really need a complementary set of solutions to be implemented in tandem, because people have all sorts of different needs and we need to meet those unique needs through different programs that are tailored to different income levels at different stages of their life,” Rhein said. “Our program, I think, is the best program to create homes that are permanently affordable, but we need all the affordable housing programs in order to make a meaningful impact.”
The Trust at East Lake will be completed in phases, with the final phase aiming for completion in the Fall of 2025.