Beltline Community Benefits Passes Atlanta Council Committee

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Community Development and Human Resources Committee of the City Council of Atlanta (CD/HR) unanimously approved legislation on Tuesday, September 28, 2010, which defines community benefits principles for the Atlanta Beltline.

The Community Benefits legislation was sponsored by CD/HR Chairwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12), and was co-sponsored by Carla Smith (District 1), Kwanza Hall (District 2), Ivory Young (District 3), Cleta Winslow (District 4), Alex Wan (District 6), Yolanda Adrean (District 8), Keisha Bottoms (District 11), Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large), Aaron Watson (Post 2-at-large), and Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large).

The legislation now heads to Full Council, where it will be considered Monday, October 04. It will appear on the Consent Agenda, having passed unanimously in Committee, unless any Council Member requests a separate vote on the item. In either case, it is likely to pass because at least a supermajority of members have co-sponsored the legislation.

There are 12 principles listed in the document including mixed-income housing (“Housing within the City of Atlanta Beltline TAD should be mixed-income”); transportation infrastructure (“encourage alternatives to surface parking lots… provide bicycle racks… facilitate pedestrian movement”); alternative transportation and connectivity; green space and environmental sustainability; multi-use development; business and economic development; green building and green jobs; public safety; neighborhood, civic life, and public gathering places (“should provide public gathering places, large and small, and make meeting space available”); technology (“in order to bridge the digital divide, access to current technology should be encouraged in new multi-family developments such as high-speed internet, Wi-Fi access”); appearance and utilities (“all development should be encouraged to bury utilities underground”); and accessibility (“to any persons with a disability, handicap, and/or senior citizens”).

The resolution, 10-R-1734, reads: “WHEREAS, Atlanta Beltline, Inc. (ABI) has been duly formed by The Atlanta Development Authority to perform certain of the Authority’s development and/or redevelopment responsibilities within and for the City of Atlanta with respect to the City of Atlanta Tax Allocation District Number Six – Beltline, and the development of the Beltline Redevelopment Plan approved and adopted pursuant to Ordinance 05-O-1733 duly adopted by the City Council of the City on November 7, 2005, as approved by the Mayor of the City on November 9, 2005; and

“WHEREAS, Ordinance 05-O-1733, Section 19 requires that capital projects that receive funding from TAD bond proceeds shall reflect, through development agreements or funding agreements that accompany such projects, certain community benefits principles, including but not limited to: prevailing wages for workers; a first source hiring system to target job opportunities for residents of impacted low income neighborhoods along the Atlanta Beltline; establishment and usage of apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs for workers of impacted neighborhoods; and specifically recognize the importance of community involvement in the Atlanta Beltline implementation process; and

“WHEREAS, ABI has determined the need to adopt Community Benefit Guiding Principles to stimulate, support, encourage, and promote equitable community benefits through its TAD bond funded development projects; and…

“WHEREAS, the Board of Directors of ABI, after careful review and analysis, adopted and approved the Community Benefit Guiding Principles on September 8, 2010…

“NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED… That the Atlanta City Council supports the adoption of the Beltline Community Benefit Guiding Principles attached hereto as Exhibit A.”

Rukiya Eaddy, External Affairs Manager with ABI, came to the CD/HR meeting, to discuss what appears to be a thorough process of community engagement which led to the development of the policy.

Eaddy said there had been a year-long process, where Melissa Conrad, Assciate Director of Georgia STAND-UP, had served as a Beltline Tax Allocation District Advisory Committee (TADAC) Community Benefits Subcommittee Chair, and had worked with ABI, to help develop the policy. Debra Scott, Executive Director of Georgia STAND-UP, had led the community engagement process prior to Conrad.

It began with a citywide conversation in August 2009 about what a community benefits agreement is, Eaddy said. Then she said that ABI approached the five Beltline study groups (Northside, Westwide, Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast) in different parts of the city to gain community input as to what types of community benefits they would like to see in the Beltline.

Residents proposed dozens of different ideas, Eaddy said, with about 40 coming out of each study group. ABI then “scrubbed the list, internally,” and identified various planning processes which were already addressing some of the issues.

ABI then identified some of the ideas which were not being covered by any of the existing planning processes, Eaddy said. This “wish list” was then taken to a working group consisting of two members from each study group to turn them into policy statements.

The statements then went to a developer focus group, led by the Urban Land Institute, to determine whether they were feasible for developers to comply with, or whether developers believed they would prohibit investment. The developer focus group included developers, as well as a banker and lawyer, Eaddy said.

Conrad told APN that developers proposed two changes. Counterintuitively, it was the developers who recommended that the mixed-income housing language be changed from an encouragement to a requirement, and that was adopted by ABI and citizens, Conrad said.

Conrad also said that developers objected to placing utility lines underground on the basis that it would be cost prohibitive in low-income neighborhoods. However, ABI and citizens stood firm. “They felt like, developers do it in other neighborhoods, and that was what they wanted.”

The revised principles were then brought back to the community members, where they were overwhelmingly supported, Eaddy said.

“For us, this Community Benefits work has been a five year journey on the Beltline. So many of you remember sitting around the table voting for the Beltline back in November of 2005. We came in and said, we think this could be a really incredible project if it changed the face of the city, but we’re concerned. About how residents are really going to benefit from this project and how people who live in neighborhoods now will be a part of it,” Conrad told the committee.

“And so, you all through that conversation made a requirement that community benefits be included any time TAD dollars are spent on the Beltline,” Conrad said.

In November 2005, then-Council Member Ceasar Mitchell (Post 1-at-large) proposed an amendment to the TAD legislation in November 2005, which was approved as Section 19, Conrad told Atlanta Progressive News.

The requirement started out as a vague notion of community benefits and that these benefits needed to be shaped by the residents themselves.

Conrad told APN that Section 19 of the Beltline TAD legislation included some language about prevailing wages, apprenticeship programs, and jobs for local residents, based on input from local labor unions, but that otherwise, the definition of community benefits had remained open-ended.

“We’ve been working with ABI and ADA before that since that point, talking about how do we improve community engagement and how do we create jobs for local residents, and how do we really shape a project that not only shapes the external face of communities but really makes neighborhoods work for people who live there,” Conrad told CD/HR.

“This policy going forward has really done that,” Conrad said. “We’re very excited to get to this point. It has been a partnership. At times it’s been a struggle, I think.”

“I’m very excited to see this project… include the community, and have that as a part of it,” Conrad said.

“We hope that this will [happen] going foward on other projects. We hope that this is creating a new floor. We like to talk about when we create policy, we should look at the ceiling instead of the floor. We should create higher ceilings. We should look at how good we can do instead of what have we always done in the past. And we think this is a really good process to set a new floor for economic development in the City of Atlanta,” Conrad said.

No committee members commented before voting to approve the policy.

Of the community suggestions not incorporated into the 12 principles, they fell into two categories. Some were items beyond the purview of ABI, Conrad said, and the TADAC subcommittee will be creating a report on those by the end of the year.

Others, related to work being conducted by existing Beltline processes, “were forwarded on to project managers at ABI. We ensured at every community meeting, those things were reflected on,” so that citizens could follow up with the appropriate body.

One potential flaw of the resolution is that it does not appear to include any mechanism for oversight or enforcement.

REVISED JOBS POLICY HELD IN COMMITTEE

Meanwhile, a second piece of legislation Georgia STAND-UP has been working on–which would require a certain percentage of jobs on development projects receiving Atlanta taxpayer subsidies, go to residents of the city–has languished in CD/HR Committee.

This legislation is referred to as the Atlanta Community Benefits Jobs Policy (CBJP). It was held on June 01, 2010, at the request of Chairwoman Sheperd, and one Work Session was held on July 15, 2010.

Conrad told APN that City attorneys had raised concerns about the ordinance and that Georgia STAND-UP was discussing those concerns with their own legal colleagues.

CD/HR Secretary, Angela Campbell, told APN she did not know of any further Work Sessions currently scheduled, nor when the item would come up for a vote in committee.

The jobs policy is also sponsored by Chairwoman Sheperd, and is co-sponsored by Council Members Smith, Winslow, Archibong (District 5), Wan, CT Martin (District 10), Bond, Watson, and Willis. Conrad told APN that Hall and Young have also expressed interest in signing on.

The language of the ordinance, 10-O-0928, is quite technical, as it deals with revising legislation passed late last year called the First Source Jobs Policy (FSJP).

According to a fact sheet attached to the legislation, the ordinance strengthens the existing policy in several ways.

Under the FSJP, local residents must be hired for 50 percent of all entry levels jobs. But under the CBJP ordinance, the requirement would be expanded to include 50 percent of all positions, including managerial, professional, and technical jobs.

Also under CBJP, developers would be required to hire employees, where possible, through the pre-apprenticeship and certified apprenticeship programs of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.

Under CBJP, 1.5 percent of all future city development subsidies would be placed in a Trust Fund to pay for the administration of the program.

In addition, CBJP would create an Oversight Committee to ensure compliance. According to the language of the ordinance, the Mayor shall appoint 9 members to the committee, the Council President shall appoint one, and the Council shall appoint three.

Georgia STAND-UP has been emphasizing the need for the program as it relates to jobs created through the Atlanta Beltline development and Fort McPherson redevelopment. However, the ordinance would impact all subsidized development projects within the City.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING, GENTRIFICATION, AND DISPLACEMENT STILL AN UNRESOLVED ISSUE

In other news, Chairwoman Sheperd made an announcement at the end of the CD/HR meeting acknowledging that Atlanta Progressive News had been “absolutely correct” in pointing out that ABI had failed to keep its promise to address affordable housing in depth at its September 2010 quarterly briefing before CD/HR. Sheperd said that at its next quarterly briefing, likely in December, she had instructed the Beltline to keep its promise.

As APN previously reported, ABI and the ADA opposed recommendations made by the Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board (BAHAB) to require that at least ten percent of multifamily housing units receiving taxpayer subsidy be set aside for extremely low-income families.

APN also reported that BAHAB recommendations about mitigating displacement due to gentrification around the Beltline were also taken out of the final recommendations presented by ABI to the Council regarding the Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

While the Community Benefits agreement passed by CD/HR Tuesday includes mixed-income housing as one of its twelve key guiding principles, the details of what “mixed” means are not specified.

To be sure, the specific affordable housing income targeting requirements were addressed separately through the BAHAB process, APN has raised concerns about that process and BAHAB’s final recommendations, as modified by the ADA and ABI.

Conrad acknowledged the full extent of community input about preventing gentrification was not reflected in the simple statement that community benefits include mixed-income housing.

But she said those concerns were supposed to be addressed by BAHAB and other Beltline processes. “I think it’s a piece of the process. Beltline has all these internal processes they were working on. A lot of these principles were being handled in separate processes,” Conrad told APN.

“One of the things BAHAB is dealing with this year is dealing with the displacement issue,” Conrad said, pointing to a Beltline-supported community land trust initiative as one example.

One question, she said, is “How do you deal with displacement of people not living in the TAD when the funds have to be spent within the TAD?”

“Most of the stuff in the TAD is abandoned property, industrial property. But it doesn’t matter. When you raise property values next to my house, my property taxes are going to go up,” Conrad said.

Therefore, “We [at Georgia STAND-UP] think Beltline should put its political force behind other things that will address displacement,” Conrad said.

“Beltline will need to work in partnership. That’s where the conversation needs to happen,” Conrad said, adding that she feels ABI has tried to skirt the issue by only publicly addressing what happens within the narrow boundaries of the TAD.

(END/2010)

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