By Sean Keenan
Residential developers hoping to build in Decatur will now be required to earmark a chunk of new units for affordable housing.
Last month, the City Commission passed inclusionary zoning legislation, requiring private developers building five or more residences at a time to price at least 10 percent of those new units below market rates.
In exchange for reserving space for affordable housing, developers are afforded a 20 percent density bonus to help offset the costs of providing cheaper housing, meaning residential complexes could be built with more units than a parcel might otherwise allow.
For rental properties, those units would need to be priced at or below 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). Owner-occupied units, however, can be priced as high as 120 percent of the AMI.
To put that in perspective, the metro Atlanta AMI is almost $80,000 for a four-person household, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
So, while the City of Decatur’s move is decidedly a step in the right direction, the price points of new units could still be out of reach for the most vulnerable parts of the city’s population.
And how does Decatur’s new policy stack up to the one championed by Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens in 2018? The new program is similar, but there are distinctions.
In Atlanta, new projects in the Beltline Overlay District — the area wrapped around the development-propelling multi-use trail — with at least 10 residences are obligated to set aside between 10 and 15 percent of their units for affordable housing: Ten percent if the units are priced for incomes at or below 60 percent of the AMI, and 15 percent if they’re priced for households making 80 percent or below the AMI.
Or, if developers are so inclined, they can “pay a one-time in-lieu fee, to be paid at 15 percent of AMI, per unit in the sub-area that the developer has chosen to opt-out of, in-lieu of setting aside affordable units,” according to City of Atlanta materials.
Noticeably absent from both plans, however, are incentives for developers to provide housing for people on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
Housing experts have for years said that metro Atlanta is in dire need of more residential units priced for households making 50 percent of the AMI or less.