The Community Foundation's Frank Fernandez and Sarah Kirsch working on affordable housing for the region. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

By Maria Saporta

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and Mayor Andre Dickens announced Tuesday a historic commitment to building and preserving affordable housing.

The catalyst for the announcement is a philanthropic gift of $100 million – $75 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and $25 million from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation to the Community Foundation because of its plan to address housing issues. In addition to the Woodruff and Whitehead gifts, the Community Foundation is raising another $100 million.

And Mayor Dickens is working with the Atlanta City Council to pass an additional $100 million in affordable housing bonds.

It is unprecedented for the City of Atlanta and the metro area to have $300 million to tackle one of the region’s most pressing problems.

A press conference was held Tuesday morning in front of an affordable housing model development – the preserved 1912 Academy Lofts at Adair Park.

Mayor Dickens and VIP guests gather before Tuesday’s announcement in the back of Academy Lofts at Adair Park. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

“The stars are aligned in Atlanta,” said Russ Hardin, president of the Woodruff and Whitehead foundations, in an exclusive interview. “We want to invest in that alignment. We love nothing better than investing in Atlanta’s leadership, especially when the public-private sectors are aligned.”

Hardin pointed to how the mayor has made affordable housing a priority – pledging to build or preserve 20,000 units by 2030. Hardin also mentioned several other developments, including new leadership at the Atlanta Housing Authority as well as public and private entities working together to tackle the issue.

“We know affordable housing is central to the quality of life of people living in our region,” said Frank Fernandez, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, in an interview. “If we really want to be a region for all, we have to address this fundamental issue. It’s about people being able to afford where they live.”

Mayor Dickens, in a prepared statement, emphasized that affordable housing has been central to his administration.

“Today’s announcement is a game-changer in our ability to have projects keep pace with a rapidly evolving market,” Dickens said. “Thank you to the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation for their generosity, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta for their steadfast partnership and the Atlanta City Council in advance for their collaboration on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide affordability relief for Atlantans.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens (center) speaks to Lisa Gordon, the city’s chief operating officer, and Odie Donald II, his chief of staff, after the Dec. 9, 2022 meeting of the Atlanta Committee for Progress held at King & Spalding’s offices. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Fernandez and Sarah Kirsch, the Community Foundation’s managing director of housing funds, already have raised $130 million towards their $200 million goal.

The Community Foundation will have two funds – each with $100 million. The GoATL Affordable Housing Impact Fund will provide low-interest loans, and the TogetherATL Philanthropic Fund will seek to build and preserve long-term housing affordable.

“With the philanthropic fund, we will work with our nonprofit partners to drive deeper and longer affordability,” Kirsch said. “We are trying to create more reliable streams of funding for affordable housing.”

The efforts announced Tuesday morning build upon HouseATL, an initiative launched by dozens of nonprofit and for-profit leaders in 2018 to make recommendations on housing affordability.

HouseATL was co-chaired by Fernandez and Kirsch, who was then working for other organizations in Atlanta.

“I’ve been working on housing affordability and funding solutions for at least eight years,” Kirsch said. “It is so exciting. This [announcement] is what we aspired we would be able to do.”

If Atlanta City Council supports the additional $100 million housing bond program, it would:

  • Expedite the development of affordable housing on publicly owned land
  • Preserve affordability where it already exists with infusions of subsidy to provide safe, dignified and high-quality communities
  • Secure additional funding needed to get shovel-ready projects under construction

“Housing is complicated,” Fernandez said. “We want to make it easier for nonprofits and for-profits to develop affordable housing. The Woodruff/Whitehead gifts are catalytic. They really build on the collaborative work that has been done and is now accelerating.”

Fernandez then added to address the need for affordable housing in the five-county region, an infusion of $1 billion or more would be needed.

“The need is critical, and it is only getting worse,” Fernandez said. “The time to strike is now, and the window of opportunity is closing.”

Back in 2018, HouseATL presented its recommendations (left to right): Sarah Kirsch then at ULI Atlanta, Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic of Enterprise Community Partners, Frank Fernandez then at the Blank Foundation, Tim Block of Enterprise, Nancy Gaddy of Mercy Housing and James Alexander of Mercy Housing. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The Community Foundation, working with local partners including the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the Atlanta Regional Commission, estimates Atlanta is losing more than 1,500 affordable homes each year. Metro Atlanta is projected to add another 2.9 million people by 2050, and nearly 100,000 households will not be able to afford market prices.

Efforts to create more affordable housing in Atlanta reminded Hardin of how the community responded to save Grady Hospital more than a decade ago. Hardin said he could argue that “affordable housing is a more difficult problem than healthcare.”

Fortunately, Kirsch said Dickens has assembled a strong team in his administration to work on his affordable housing priority, including Lisa Gordon, chief operating officer, Courtney English and David Edwards, special advisors to the mayor and have a background in housing and community development, as well as others.

“There’s a lot of depth, expertise and passion regarding housing and neighborhoods,” Kirsch said. “There’s a deep commitment to unlock a lot of our publicly owned land that is vacant or underdeveloped for affordable housing.”

The top priority for the new housing dollars will be to both build new and preserve existing affordable housing, according to Kirsch.

“We are trying to support a stronger housing ecosystem in Atlanta,” Kirsch said. “If we take care of housing, education outcomes improve, health outcomes improve, neighborhoods improve and public safety improves.”

Source: Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.


Source: Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

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...

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  1. This is wonderful news, and, we are unclear if all of these funds will be used to help people who have some sort of income to purchase homes, and/or will there also be funding for those who don’t have a sustainable source of income that will help them find permanent housing. The organization that I volunteer with provides housing assistance and housing here in DeKalb County, but primarily for people with incomes of $900 or less per month. Will such individuals be eligible for housing assistance with any of these new funds? And will subsidized housing be developed for such individuals that they can afford? Thank you.

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