To house Atlanta, start with preservation
By Sara Haas, Director, Southeast Market, Enterprise Community Partners
Columbia at Capitol View in Adair Park has ample green space, sits along the Atlanta BeltLine Westside Trail, and provides quality, affordable housing to the residents of all its units. But until quite recently, it didn’t look like this. Not too long ago, Capitol View, a 120-unit apartment complex built in 1948, was in disrepair, and though it remained affordable to people with lower incomes, things were changing fast. Adair Park was gentrifying, and residents worried that their rents would soon balloon to unaffordable levels. But developer Columbia Residential stepped in, partnering with public, private, and philanthropic entities and utilizing federal tax credits to renovate the property and ensure it remained affordable.
Capitol View, before it was preserved, was a microcosm of what is happening all over Atlanta. The housing market is booming, and the Atlanta metro is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. With that influx of new people comes the need for housing, and rents are steadily rising.
According to federal guidelines, an affordable home should cost no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. The 2019 American Community Survey reported that the median household income in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area was $71,000. An Enterprise analysis of this data found that there are an estimated 560,000 rental units in the metro area that are affordable to households earning no more than 60% of the median, meaning monthly rents are $1,065 or below. This housing stock is affordable to Atlanta’s service industry, teachers, retirees and more. Of these, 495,000 – 88% – are unsubsidized, which means there are no resources or regulations that keep them affordable as neighborhoods change. Atlanta can and should continue to build more affordable housing, but the region must act quickly to protect and preserve the subsidized and unsubsidized affordable housing we already have.
On the policy front, Atlanta can start with property tax relief. As neighborhoods gentrify, property values, and thus property taxes, increase, making it difficult for landlords and developers to keep costs down without raising rents. Creative solutions to rising property taxes could prevent them from having to make that choice.
It is also important to ensure affordable rentals that are up for sale fall into the right hands. Atlanta can consider a “right of first refusal,” as several other regions have adopted, which gives mission-driven companies and nonprofits intending to keep units affordable the opportunity to purchase properties without competing against predatory developers and investment firms.
On the financial side, Atlanta should work to increase the amount of preservation capital and level of organizational support flowing to mission-driven developers so they can keep their units affordable and have the resources to acquire properties with expiring restrictions, particularly when affordable regulatory restrictions through the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program—the most successful creator of affordable housing in history—end after 15 or 30 years. Preservation capital can come from a range of sources: Enterprise’s Conventional Equity program is one example of how private funds can support preservation. Philanthropic funding helps to fill the gap between government subsidy and private investment. And emerging public, private, and philanthropic coordination efforts like the HouseATL Funders Collective can also help direct resources toward affordable housing preservation. Our region has recognized the value of partnership: the Metro Atlanta Housing Strategy includes a Metro Atlanta Preservation Collaborative in which representatives from the 10-county metro area meet quarterly to strategize around proactive preservation efforts. This type of collaboration is essential to saving—and growing—Atlanta’s affordable housing stock.
Finally, Atlanta’s housing preservation strategy must involve property owners every step of the way. We must continue to educate housing owners on the many resources available to help them maintain their properties and keep costs down, from the federal Section 8 housing choice voucher program to local training programs on how to minimize operating costs. Bringing in new public and private partners can lead to innovative programs that support landlords in new ways; for example, in Los Angeles, Enterprise partnered with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, Avail, and local nonprofit the Coalition for Responsible Community Development to launch the Local Rental Owners Collaborative (LROC), which utilized philanthropic funding to address rent arrears that accumulated as a result of Covid-19. LROC provides relief for tenants while ensuring small landlords have the funds to maintain their buildings and keep them affordable.
As Atlanta continues to expand and the need for housing grows, preservation must remain a central part of the strategy to ensure that housing can remain affordable for everyone. By combining new policies with resources and support from across sectors, we can get there.