ULI Atlanta – HouseATL Case Studies Help Demystify Affordable Housing Development
By Daphne Bond-Godfrey, Director, ULI Atlanta
Housing affordability has been and continues to be one of the most pressing and vexing challenges facing American cities. ULI’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 names it one of the top ten trends in real estate and goes as far as to say “[The] affordable housing crisis likely to explode without intervention… Years of underfunding and a lack of attention have created a housing availability and affordability crisis throughout the United States.” Unpacking why we lack the needed housing at various affordability levels has much to do with lack of funding but also embedded in the challenge is that it is complicated subject matter, not easily understood even within the real estate industry.
The complication stems from the inability to easily finance these projects – and they often require multiple layers of capital from the public and private sector to make happen. On the public sector side, this can come in the form of tax incentives, grants, or low-income housing tax credits. On the private sector side, financing can come from a variety of mechanisms including banks, below-market debt funds, private equity vehicles, or real estate investment trusts (REITs). A ULI publication from 2015 on preserving workforce and affordable housing identified 16 leading examples of private financing.
Since the development process is hyperlocal, each jurisdiction has different parameters on how they deploy these types of resources and incentives, thus making affordable housing development complicated and cumbersome.
Through the work of HouseATL, ULI Atlanta has helped develop case studies to make the subject matter less complicated and to help real estate practitioners, policymakers, and other professionals better understand how affordable housing is developed and preserved. These case studies specifically highlight developments and models that warrant emulating in the Atlanta region.
These case studies were developed through a unique partnership with ULI Atlanta – HouseATL and GA Tech’s Master’s in Real Estate Development (MRED) program. MRED graduate students acted as technical writers to research and develop these case studies. HouseATL’s Executive Committee helped to identify and select projects in the metro Atlanta area that showcase an innovative and scalable approach to affordable housing development and preservation. In total, four projects have been selected. The first two case studies help illustrate the power of partnership, and how organizations can align even if they operate under different, but complementary missions.
The first case study is two homes developed by Atlanta Land Trust (ALT) and Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation (the Trust), two entities who joined forces to create a unique partnership that may not have otherwise existed. The Trust and ALT identified a mutually beneficial approach to advance their respective goals. For ALT, it was to “steward permanent affordability near the Atlanta BeltLine neighborhoods” and for the Trust the primary goal was to use historic preservation as a driver to maintain affordability and diversity, while promoting sustainability in Atlanta’s beautiful and cherished historic districts. This partnership and resulting program – the West Atlanta Preservation Initiative uses two homes to demonstrate the feasibility of rehabilitating and revitalizing neighborhoods affordably and without displacing long-term residents.
The second case study is through another unique partnership between Mercy Care and Mercy Housing, which also demonstrates a creative approach to mission-based, not-for-profit development. While both Mercy Care and Mercy Housing can point to their origins within the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic service organization, the two nonprofits have long been independent organizations. Mercy Park represents the culmination of this partnership in a four-acre site with a 45,000 square foot Mercy Care health clinic, and a 79-unit senior housing development for seniors over the age of 62. Mercy Park is a transit-oriented development located near a MARTA stop, the Chamblee Rail Trail, and historic downtown Chamblee. The unique integration of healthcare and affordability, inclusion of senior housing and level of affordability met, as well as, location make it prime development to understand how to advance affordably while building healthy places.
HouseATL is an open taskforce initiated through the convening power and resources of ULI Atlanta, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Central Atlanta Progress, Center for Civic Innovation, and Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Since January 2018, these partners have engaged more than 200 civic leaders to develop and help advance 23 recommendations to invest $1B in affordable housing over 8 – 10 years, producing and preserving 20,000 affordable units. The City of Atlanta adopted the key pillars of HouseATL’s platform in June 2019, resulting in the One Atlanta Housing Affordability Action Plan. HouseATL’s work continues today recognizing that we will only be successful in tacking affordability if we work in more coordinated and collaborative ways – within sectors and across sectors.