ANALYSIS: T-SPLOST, the Beltline, and Gentrification

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(APN) ATLANTA — The T-SPLOST–a one penny sales tax measure intended to fund transportation projects in the Metro Atlanta area–will be on Metro Atlanta ballots on July 31, 2012.  One controversial project that would be funded through the T-SPLOST is the Atlanta Beltline.

This article will explain how the appearance of the Beltline on the T-SPLOST project list means that working families in Atlanta are being asked to pay for the gentrification which will likely result in the displacement of many of these same families from the City of Atlanta.

This article will further explain how the appearance of the Beltline on the T-SPLOST represents a betrayal of Atlanta voters who were promised a robust Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Atlanta Progressive News has reported in depth for several years on how the Beltline is primarily a development, rather than a transportation, project, aimed primarily at raising property values and property taxes, thus gentrifying neighborhoods throughout Atlanta.

It is not speculation that the Beltline is a gentrification project.  Indeed, when the Beltline was first presented, and the funding mechanism for the Beltline was supposed to be a series of Beltline Tax Allocation District (TAD) bonds, the planned gentrification was built into the financing mechanism itself.

The premise of a TAD is that the City borrows money through the sale of a bond; invests that money into neighborhoods; and then uses the increase in property taxes that results from the investment in the neighborhood to repay the bond with interest.  Thus, the increase in property taxes was always part of the plan.

Now, early on when the Beltline was being proposed, working families, especially throughout working class neighborhoods Atlanta in South Atlanta, raised concerns about gentrification and displacement.

In response, then-Councilman Ceasar Mitchell (formerly Post 1-at-large) proposed that fifteen percent of all TAD bonds would go into a Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund (BAHTF), which was intended to provide some new affordable housing opportunities to mitigate the expected increases in property taxes and rents in Beltline neighborhoods.

The City indeed created the BAHTF, as well as a Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board, which was tasked with recommending how the funds should be spent.

APN has reported over the last few years on the BAHTF and BAHAB; and how BAHAB originally proposed a requirement of a set-aside of ten percent of all units at a rental price affordable to families making thirty percent of the Area Medium Income (AMI) or less, in any multi-family developments receiving BAHTF dollars.

APN reported on how the Beltline and the then-Atlanta Development Authority (ADA) opposed the requirement.

APN reported on how the Beltline spent nearly two years attempting to avoid being honest with the Community Development/Human Resources Cmte of the City Council of Atlanta regarding their opposition to this requirement.  

APN reported on how the Beltline lied about its opposition to this requirement.

APN has reported on how, to date, the BAHTF dollars have been used on nothing other than down-payment assistance on single-family homes and condos; how many of the families benefiting from this assistance make well over 30 percent of AMI; and how the ADA already had a downpayment assistance program, making this a repackaging of an existing program.

There is much more to be said, and that has been said, about the Beltline and their Affordable Housing Trust Fund shenanigans.  The misuse of affordable housing dollars to assist middle and upper-income families in the City of Atlanta has a long history that has been detailed in Larry Keating’s book on Atlanta, called Race, Class, and Urban Expansion.  

So far, even with the one installment of about one million dollars into the BAHTF from the one Beltline TAD bond that has been taken out, these folks could not even bring themselves to support a program of meaningful assistance for working families.

And, yet and still, the entire notion of BAHTF has been a bait and switch.

Apparently, the Beltline, in pursuing funding for itself from the voters through the T-SPLOST, has given up on its plan to fund the Beltline through the TAD funding mechanism.

What this means is, to the extent that the T-SPLOST, if approved, will fund multiple segments of the Beltline, then, in fact, nothing will be going into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for those segments.  

And so, the inclusion of the Beltline in the T-SPLOST represents nothing less than a broken promise made to the citizens of Atlanta.

The Beltline has done nothing to come back to the citizens and explain why they have broken their promises, nor to explain how they now propose to mitigate Beltline-related gentrification–to make up in the expected loss of BAHTF dollars–in any way.

Furthermore, with sales taxes being a regressive form of taxation, meaning that they disproportionately burden working families, that means that Atlanta’s working families are now being asked to fund their own housing cost burden and possible displacement.

Numerous organizations–ranging from the local Sierra Club, to the DeKalb County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to the local Tea Parties–have expressed opposition to the upcoming T-SPLOST in Metro Atlanta for a variety of reasons.

Indeed, if the project list for Metro Atlanta included numerous MARTA heavy rail line extensions, the conversation would be very different today.

Yet, the issues surrounding the Beltline and gentrification have largely been missing from the discussion.  It is hoped that this article will prompt further dialogue on the impact of the T-SPLOST on Atlanta’s scarce and dwindling stock of truly affordable housing.

(END/2012)

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