Community Gives Input on BeltLine Affordable Housing

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board (BAHAB) held the first citywide conversation on affordable housing as it relates to the BeltLine, on July 08, 2008, the first in a series of meetings seeking to generate feedback from the community over the coming weeks.

BAHAB is actively working to create policy recommendations on creating affordable housing around the BeltLine which they will present later this year to Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., and the City of Atlanta.

If fully realized, the BeltLine could create a system of public transit, trails, parks, and affordable housing around a 22-mile loop of railway that connects 45 neighborhoods in developed and underdeveloped areas of Atlanta.

In 2005, the Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Public Schools, and the Fulton County Commission all voted to create the 6,500 acre Beltline Tax Allocation District (TAD) which is expected to generate approximately $1.7 billion of the total project cost of $2.8 billion over 25 years.

However, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the TADs unconstitutional earlier this year, as previously reported in Atlanta Progressive News.

The Atlanta City Council required 15 percent of the TAD bond proceeds be set aside into the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund (BAHTF), which represents Atlanta’s largest single affordable housing investment ever.

BAHAB expects the fund to generate $240 million over 25 years, which could produce an estimated 5,600 units of affordable housing.

In creating the board, the Atlanta City Council charged BAHAB with three main priorities: to make recommendations to Atlanta Beltline, Inc. and the City of Atlanta with respect to goals and policies related to the use of the Trust Fund; monitoring the location and availability of affordable housing throughout the BeltLine; and coordinating with other affordable housing activities throughout the City of Atlanta.

Members of the Board, which include local professionals and community development experts, met for the first time in May 2007 and adopted a summary of guiding principles in February 2008.

These principles include, but are not limited to: creating mixed-income housing wherever possible [defined as at least 50 percent market rate]; providing housing for low and very-low income families [earning between 30 percent and 80 percent of area median income (AMI)]; and preserving the public subsidy for long-term affordability while allowing the resident to capture some of the equity build-up.

BAHAB will have to decide who the new housing is going to be affordable for, how to keep the housing affordable, how to balance rental housing with owner-occupied housing, and how to minimize displacement of current residents living in the TAD who could be forced out due to increasing land values, among other issues.

As they craft final recommendations, board members will weigh these questions, taking into consideration their guiding principles as well as community feedback.

Once complete, BAHAB will submit their recommendations to the Atlanta City Council later this year for review and adoption by resolution.

BAHAB presented PowerPoint slides July 9, 2008, which highlighted the severe shortage of affordable housing for Atlanta’s large population of people working low-paying jobs, and showed some potential ideas that could foster long-term, affordable housing.

LOW-PAYING JOBS, DISAPPEARING AFFORDABLE HOUSING

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines affordable housing as housing that requires no more than 30 percent of a family’s household income to own and maintain.

Because many households spend more than 30% of their income on housing, another way to target the funds to the neediest families is to provide affordable housing to families earning 80 percent or less of the AMI.

One in four Atlanta households earn below 30 percent AMI, which is $15,000 to $21,000 per year, while nearly half earn below 60 percent AMI, which is $29,000 to $42,000 per year.

Overall, two-thirds of all Atlanta jobs pay less than $40,000 per year with 37 percent of all jobs concentrated in the lowest-paying job sectors: administrative, accommodations, education, retail, and arts and entertainment.

Meanwhile, there are around 29,000 publicly subsidized units affordable to low or moderate-income households in Atlanta.

At least 8,000 of these are at risk of expiration in the city or in the BeltLine Planning Area between now and 2010.

The Atlanta Housing Authority is currently working to demolish 3,000 units of affordable public housing under its jurisdiction by 2010.

The erosion of current affordable housing is only exacerbating the housing crisis.

Atlanta currently faces a shortfall of 30,000 to 50,000 affordable housing units and it is estimated that the five-county metro Atlanta region needs 343,000 units, 260,000 of which need to charge under $600 per month in rent in order to be affordable to families in Atlanta.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING DELIVERY

BAHAB is looking at affordable housing delivery systems that other U.S. cities use but are not currently used in Atlanta.

Some of these alternatives includes government incentives or mandates like inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to provide a percentage of all units affordably. Other ideas include rental tenant protections as well as community land trusts (CLTs), which are designed to reduce rental and ownership costs while fostering long-term affordability.

In a CLT, an individual owns a commercial or residential building while the CLT, which is governed by a non-profit board, owns the land. The CLT and owner enter into a 99-year ground lease that ensures owner-occupancy, responsible use, and outlines fees paid to the CLT.

As previously reported in APN, public housing residents at Hollywood Courts and Palmer House facing eviction have proposed in writing to HUD that they be able to take over their own housing and manage it themselves; but their pleas were ignored by HUD.

A resale formula is built into the ground lease that is designed to keep homes affordable for subsequent buyers. While ensuring long-term affordability, BAHAB would like to allow the residents to capture some of the equity build-up.

The BeltLine Partnership is working with the City of Atlanta, non-profits, and universities to study how CLTs might alleviate anticipated economic displacement around the BeltLine and other long-term models.

SAME OLD SONG AND DANCE?

One skeptic that Atlanta will provide truly affordable housing appearing around the BeltLine is Dr. Miriam Konrad, a Lecturer in Sociology at Georgia State University. Konrad wrote her dissertation, “Transporting Atlanta: The Mode of Mobility Under Construction,” on the history of mass transit in Atlanta which included a chapter of the BeltLine.

Konrad noted project planners are using “workforce housing” and “affordable housing” as if the two terms mean the same thing.

In cases of workforce housing, there are typically requirements for a certain amount to be built, but it is often minimal and not affordable for those in poverty.

Konrad is pleased BAHAB is looking at the affordable housing issue through a broad lens and including public input, but said she is still looking at the whole BeltLine issue with “the glass is half empty” approach.

Her “strong sense” is that, like with the implementation of MARTA, promises will be made but ultimately not kept, Konrad said.

“Gentrification, already and always underway in the region, will undoubtedly increase, forcing many out of neighborhoods and further and further toward nowhere,” wrote in her dissertation.

FUTURE CONVERSATIONS

Officials said because of the large response to the July 9 citywide conversation, BAHAB could hold another similar forum in the near future.

In the meantime, there will be several more opportunities for the public to discuss and offer feedback on the BeltLine affordable housing issue during regular study group meetings set to take place over the coming weeks: July 24 Southwest Study Group (location TBD); July 28 Westside Study Group (location Hands On Atlanta Training Room A); Aug. 4 Northside Study Group (location TBD); and Aug. 14 Northeast Study Group (location Hillside, Inc. Training Room 1301).

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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