Talk of Atlanta’s affordable housing polices emerges in an unlikely setting at Tech
By David Pendered
The latest sign that the high cost of housing in Atlanta is again a front-burner issue in Atlanta appeared in the unlikely setting of a panel discussion at Georgia Tech on the direction of land use in Atlanta.
Nothing on the agenda suggested the panelists would talk about much other than the pending update of the city’s zoning code – how the code may be changed to make the city feel more like a cluster of communities, and what lessons Atlanta can learn from other cities.
But once the issue of affordable housing arose during the question/answer segment, the four panelists never let it go.
The common ground among four practitioners from differing perspectives was that a municipal government has the ability to foster affordable housing by setting goals; creating a funding mechanism to help pay for lower-cost units; and recognizing that prices likely will rise after the expiration of regulations that would control housing prices at each development.
Panelists spoke for nearly two hours at Future Zone, a World Town Planning Day event hosted Oct. 26 by Tech’s Student Planning Association.
Here are comments from the conversation:
Barbara Faga, a professor of practice in urban design at Rutgers University who formerly chaired the planning firm EDAW, and whose credits in Atlanta include Centennial Olympic Park and The Carter Center:
- “We zoned for density, but the city approves projects with lower density than what it’s zoned for. We’ve lowered density, so now we have to up the production costs. That’s happening across the country. That’s why housing has become so expensive.”
David Green, a principal at Perkins + Will and former Tech professor of architecture whose Atlanta credits include the Atlanta BeltLine corridor design and the South Fork Conservancy Watershed:
- “No successful city in the world enforces affordability through zoning. We need to come up with a strategy and goals and set that for affordable housing. And there need to be impact fees to build affordable housing. … This has nothing to do with zoning. This is pure science. There has to be a second ordinance for affordable housing [that says], ‘We want 30 percent affordable.’”
Jim Irwin, president of New City LLC, which is redeveloping the Kroger site near Ponce City Market, and former senior vice president at Jamestown Properties, which is redeveloping PCM:
- “Twenty percent of Ponce City Markets are set aside as affordable [because] we were able to work with the city to create a structure that worked. Philosophically, we felt it important to do because we were developing a project that would bring in high rents. We were able to bring in a targeted incentive for that specific project.”
Caleb Racicot, a senior principal at TSW whose Atlanta credits include Old Fourth Ward Master Plan, the Decatur Strategic Plan, two Atlanta BeltLine Subarea Master Plans:
- “Atlanta does need to be a city for everyone. … There are a lot of things in codes and regulations that can be changed. We can encourage development in areas where people don’t have to have a car. … But we don’t ever talk about that. There are things we can do beyond the new development scales.”
Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens was scheduled to serve on the panel. He did not attend or send a representative. Dickens is the lead sponsor of a package of pending legislation that aims to promote the construction of affordable homes in the BeltLine overlay district. The council is not expected to vote on the package this year.