Task force lays out affordability proposal at housing forum

HouseATL presents its recommendations to a crowd of housing stakeholders at the quarterly Atlanta Regional Housing Forum (Kelly Jordan)

By Sonam Vashi

HouseATL, a task force comprised of members from more than 60 city and regional organizations creating affordable housing recommendations for the city, presented its latest draft of recommendations this morning at the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum’s quarterly meeting. The proposal is aimed to help fulfill Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s campaign promise to spend $1 billion toward affordable housing and will soon be presented to the mayor.

The latest draft, which calls for more than 20,000 new and preserved affordable homes over the next 8-10 years, details several proposals on funding strategies, anti-displacement efforts, and educating and communicating with Atlanta residents.

Concrete details on a timeline, the location of affordable units, or how affordable they would be are yet to come. HouseATL member Frank Fernandez, vice president of community development at the Blank Family Foundation, said a “healthy tension” will likely surround those discussions, which will include more public input.

The recommendations address funding mechanisms, such as a proposal to issue a new $250 million bond specifically for housing and a need for an estimated $20-50 million annually from philanthropists and the private sector. Anti-displacement efforts also take center stage: HouseATL advocates for emergency solutions people dealing with evictions, wealth-building programs for lower-income people in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods, and a property tax relief program for affordable homeowners, similar to a program run by the Westside Future Fund.

Tayani Suma, a vice president with the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, said the task force was a “thoughtful” process. “We have come in good faith, disagreed, and had challenging and robust discussions,” she said.

Speaking to a packed room in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church downtown, members of the task force answered questions from the audience, comprised of about 200 nonprofit leaders, public employees, developers, and other housing stakeholders.

HouseATL members Sarah Kirsch of ULI Atlanta and Frank Fernandez of the Blank Foundation talk affordable housing recommendations at a meeting last week. (Photo by Maria Saporta)

When an audience member asked how the money might be used for homelessness, Cathryn Marchman, director of the city’s Partners for HOME initiative, said she had participated in the task force and discussed ways to create permanent housing for homeless individuals, although many solutions—like access to some health services—require larger action, such as the state expanding Medicaid.

To create the recommendations, the task force broke out into five working groups centered on community retention, preserving existing affordable housing, serving Atlantans making the lowest incomes, using public resources, and how to marshal private investment. Sarah Kirsch, executive director of ULI Atlanta, referenced a quote derived from Albert Einstein that guided the HouseATL process: “Spend 95 percent of your time defining the problem, and 5 percent on the solution,“ she said. “Because how you define the problem affects the solution.”

HouseATL member A.J. Robinson, president of the Central Atlanta Progress private business association, said that several companies decided to participate in the affordable housing process out of concern for Atlanta’s competitive edge: being more affordable than most of the country’s major metro areas. “Our business community has matured to a point to understand where the priorities are,” he said.

Next steps for the task force include finalizing the recommendations and sending them to the mayor. Bill Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum, closed out the event by emphasizing the importance of the next stages. “This is hard,” he said. “Making plans is easy compared to executing the plan.”

 

See the HouseATL presentation here.

 

Sonam is a freelance reporter in Atlanta who is contributing coverage of 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, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. Previously, she was a data reporter and a researcher at CNN. She is the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, and she proudly grew up in Gwinnett County.

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