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MARTA’s Amanda Rhein joining revamped Atlanta Land Trust

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Aug. 17, 2018

Amanda Rhein, who has been leading MARTA’s efforts on transit-oriented developments for nearly five years, will become the new executive director of the relaunched Atlanta Land Trust Inc.

The Atlanta Land Trust is focused on providing permanent affordable housing in strategic neighborhoods, especially along the 22-mile Beltline corridor.

Atlanta Land Trust

Rob Brawner of the BeltLine Partnership with Amanda Rhein and Christopher Norman – leaders of the revamped Atlanta Land Trust (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The nonprofit originally was formed about a decade ago, but never really got off the ground.

The Atlanta Land Trust recently has been revamped with a new board and strategic plan that aims to have 1,000 housing units under its control over the next five years. It also has received a three-year $1 million grant from the Kendeda Fund to help relaunch its efforts, and the board intends to raise more funds and partner with other organizations.

Christopher Norman, president of the Land Trust’s board and executive director of the Fulton/Atlanta Land Bank Authority Inc., said that once it had received the Kendeda grant, it was able to search for an executive.

“To our delight, that led us to Amanda,” Norman said. “We were thoroughly impressed with her experience and focus on real estate and impactful development through TODs.”

Rhein, whose last day at MARTA will be Aug. 22, will begin her new job with the Atlanta Land Trust on Aug. 27.

“I wasn’t looking to leave MARTA, but this opportunity was too good for me to pass up,” Rhein said. “It’s a good fit for me because of my background. I have always had a an interest in affordable housing going back to high school.”

Before joining MARTA as senior director of transit oriented development and real estate, Rhein spent 10 years at Invest Atlanta as a project manager and interim managing director of redevelopment.

“I was fortunate to work on significant projects, but there was the unintended consequence of displacement,” she said of the projects that often led to gentrification and caused existing residents to no longer be able to afford to stay in place. “We’ve seen that at Invest Atlanta, and we saw that at MARTA. I felt a little conflicted. I thought I was doing something positive, but it had a negative result.”

At the Atlanta Land Trust, Rhein said, she will be able to work someplace “where there are no negative side effects.”

In a traditional land trust, the nonprofit holds title to the land that is developed for single-family or multi-family housing. By owning the property, a land trust is able to ensure that the homes will remain affordable even after they have been sold to new owners.

By comparison, most affordable housing developments have a shelf-life, often only lasting about 15 years or when a unit is sold. A homeowner may have been able to buy a home that’s affordable. But once the home is sold, the owner will get the market price, making it no longer affordable for low- and moderate-income families.

Rob Brawner, vice president of the Land Trust’s board who serves as executive director of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, said there needs to be a new metric for affordability that measures not only the number of units but the number of years those units will remain affordable.

Atlanta Land Trust

Rob Brawner of the BeltLine Partnership with Amanda Rhein and Christopher Norman – leaders of the revamped Atlanta Land Trust (Photo by Maria Saporta)

For the past year or so, Atlanta has recognized that affordable housing is becoming scarcer in the city. Several organizations are working on plans to increase the number of affordable housing units, especially in the new developments that are being built throughout the city.

Norman said the Atlanta Land Trust will be another tool in the city’s quest to make sure it remains affordable for residents of all income levels.

“We are shifting our efforts to focus on permanent affordability,” he said.

A Land Trust is able to ensure long term affordability by holding the ground lease and having a resale formula that lowers the escalation of value of the property.

As envisioned, an owner would retain a 25 percent share of the increased property value when its sold. In other words, if someone bought a Land Trust home for $100,000 and 10 years later it was worth $200,000, the owner would realize 25 percent of that appreciation – and receive $125,000. That means the home would be resold at $125,000 – keeping it affordable in a community that is being revitalized.

The former Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative, which was launched just before the Great Recession and was unable to gain traction, did participate in the development of the Lofts at Reynoldstown Crossing and a couple of homes in the Pittsburgh community.

The Atlanta Land Trust, which Brawner describes as the 2.0 model, will be more self-contained and operate as a traditional land trust. It hopes to leverage the new inclusionary zoning requirements for development along the Beltline as well as the efforts on the Westside to provide affordable housing options to existing residents.

Its board includes major local players, including representatives from the Atlanta Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity International, Invest Atlanta, Georgia ACT, Enterprise Community Partners as well as the City of Atlanta. Eventually, the board will include people living in homes on property owned by the Land Trust.

By joining the Atlanta Land Trust, Rhein is taking a leap of faith.

“It’s absolutely a risk,” she said. “But I am excited to be part of this organization and to work with the board to build it.” Her goal is to make sure the Atlanta Land Trust has a significant impact on the city’s future affordability.

“This is an entrepreneurial opportunity for Amanda,” Norman said. Currently, the Land Trust has about 50 units in the pipeline, and Norman admitted that it has “an aggressive goal” to have 1,000 units under its control within five years. “That would make us one of the largest land trusts in the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rhein, 38, said MARTA will continue its focus on transit-oriented development. She said she built a good team, and MARTA leaders will be looking to replace her.

She is looking forward to her new post, which will be housed in the offices of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership along the Beltline, in walking distance from her home.

“Once there is increased awareness of the Atlanta Land Trust, opportunities to partner with developers will be more forthcoming than they are now,” said Rhein, who is looking forward to bringing permanent affordable housing to Atlanta. “To be able to work someplace where there are no negative side effects is very appealing.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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