OWN DeKalb launches new affordable homeownership program

By Sonam Vashi

When the Housing Authority of DeKalb decided to sell the single family homes it owned—72 in all—Darion Dunn, partner of real estate management company Atlantica Properties, saw an opportunity.

After buying the homes for $8 million, Atlantica Properties will rent them, but Dunn actually wants to be a landlord for as little time as possible. Atlantica Properties plans to sell the homes to the tenants that will live there, connecting them to lenders and support systems that work with first-time homebuyers, people who may need credit repair, or those who need down payment assistance.

“We want to give them all the resources, the education, the support they need to actually buy these homes from us so they can actually benefit from all of the future appreciation, all of the benefits you get from neighborhood stabilization and school stabilization that you get from having homeowners,” Dunn says. “And we want to actually give that opportunity to these tenants and these neighborhoods as opposed to being just a good landlord.”

lithonia auction

A home in Lithonia that was foreclosed. About 53% of DeKalb County’s homes are owner-occupied, compared with 62% statewide; the 2008 recession impacted homeownership rates across the country. Credit: zillow.com

In the program, called OWN DeKalb, renters will be able to buy the homes, which are located throughout DeKalb in Decatur, Lithonia, Tucker, and Stone Mountain, at fair-market value—ranging from about $120,000 to $220,000—with a monthly payment close to their rent amount, Dunn says. They will have first right of refusal to buy their homes; if they choose not to, Dunn says that Atlantica Properties will help them find another rental home at a comparable price. Atlantica partnered with Auerbach Funds, a New York–based private equity fund, to create OWN DeKalb.

DeKalb’s housing corporation bought and rehabilitated the homes six years ago. DeKalb housing corporation president Pete Walker said in a press release that the infrastructure Atlantica Properties offers “will better facilitate homeownership opportunities. We agreed with their approach to create homeowners instead of raising rents.”

About 53% of DeKalb County’s homes are owner-occupied, compared with 62% statewide. Dunn says that homeownership helps guard against sudden rent increases and can create stability and wealth. “A lot of the most stable neighborhoods in this city are just neighborhoods where families have owned homes for generations,” he says. “Most affordable housing programs focus on creating affordable rents, and that’s good. But we want to take it a step further and say, what can we do to create something that’s sustainable?”

“We really want there to be more public-private partnerships where we’re kind of taking back a lot of the rental homes that went from homeownership to rentals after 2008,” Dunn says. “This is like a pilot of something that we wanted to be open source, where anybody can use it.”

Sonam Vashi is a freelance reporter in Atlanta writing about affordable housing for Saporta Report. Her reporting, which usually focuses on criminal justice, equity, and the South, has also appeared with CNN, the Washington Post, Atlanta magazine, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. She is the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, and she grew up in Gwinnett County.

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