No quick fix for affordable housing shortage, as evidenced by project in Oakland City

By David Pendered

Atlanta isn’t likely to swiftly build its way out of the shortage of affordable housing. Case in point: The clock’s been ticking more than a year on one project near the Atlanta BeltLine that’s to be built by a non-profit developer on land that was donated. The first shovel could hit the ground late this year or in early 2020.

Turner Street, site

The Atlanta Land Trust plans to start construction by early 2020 of a total of 23 affordably priced condos and townhouses located about a quarter-mile north of the former Fort McPherson. Credit: David Pendered

This project is located a quarter mile north of the former Fort McPherson, on Tucker Avenue, in Oakland City. Prices are to be set below $200,000 for each of the 23 units in a condo/townhouse development on a vacant 1.8-acre parcel.

Development takes time – even in a climate in which Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has set a public policy to increase the number of dwellings affordable to those who earn the salaries of teachers, police officers and firefighters.

In this case, the process of financing and purchasing land was avoided because the site had been donated. The site at 1091 Tucker Ave. had to be rezoned, as it was in 2018 by the Atlanta City Council, and the board of Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission has to approve design following a period of review and recommendation by its staff. Final UDC approval remains pending. Meantime, the final threads of construction funding are being secured.

The plan is to build 23 units that are to be permanently affordable, according to Amanda Rhein, executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust. The price point of less than $200,000 per unit qualifies as affordable to households with incomes below the area median income, she said.

The land trust is coordinating the project in a joint venture with Home Place Solutions. The land was donated by Enterprise Community Partners, Rhein said. For a time, the site was owned by the Atlanta Fulton County Land Bank, which meant it wasn’t subject to property tax.

This project comports with the mission statement established for the trust, which was revived with a $1 million grant from the Kendeda Fund and the hiring this year of Rhein to lead the effort. Rhein’s development background includes service at MARTA and Invest Atlanta, the city’s development agency.

Turner Street, dumping

A man walking by this debris pushed it out of the street, where it posed a hazard to pedestrians and vehicles. The debris was dumped between Sunday and Tuesday in a neighborhood where many houses are being remodeled. Credit: David Pendered

According to Rhein:

  • “The Atlanta Land Trust is a non-profit organization working to create permanent affordable housing throughout the City of Atlanta, with a focus on the BeltLine corridor. This property is a half-mile from the BeltLine’s Westside Trail.
  • “What we’re doing here is creating for-sale, ownership opportunities target to people already living in the area, in order to mitigate displacement from property values rising as a result of the BeltLine.”

This parcel started changing hands in 2003. That’s when the Oakland City Methodist Church sold land and a building to two individuals, according to Fulton County tax records.

The Atlanta Land Trust took ownership in 2015 through a donation from Enterprise Community Partners, Rhein said. The land bank held the title for a time for tax purposes. Tax records show the title transferred to the Atlanta Land Trust in December 2018 – the month the Atlanta City Council approved a rezoning request to permit the condo/townhouse project.

“The land was donated to the land trust in 2015 from Enterprise,” Rhein said. “This was at a point in time there was no fulltime staff at the land trust – a working board, but no staff to focus on execution. When the land trust acquired it, consultants helped with the redevelopment process and community engagement. Community engagement was a multi-month process to develop a vision for the site, and rezone for that vision. The rezoning was approved in December 2018.”

The current vision includes onsite parking and an amenity area for residents, including a rain garden that’s to be installed by Southface Institute. TransFormation Alliance is to design and install a public artwork for the site, Rhein said.

 

Turner Street, tree

The site of a planned development of affordable housing now is shaded by a number of tall trees. Credit: David Pendered

 

Turner Street, structure

This brick building is adjacent to the site where the Atlanta Land Trust intends to build a total of 23 affordable residences in Oakland City. Credit: David Pendered

 

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.

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