Citizens Defeat Effort to Weaken Atlanta’s Housing Affordability Goals, as Council Cmte Approves New Development Authority Set-Aside Requirement
(APN) ATLANTA — Victory was sweet for affordable housing advocates who quickly mobilized over the course of 72 hours in the wake of reporting by Atlanta Progressive News, as the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Resources Cmte (CD/HR) stripped a controversial ordinance of language that would have eliminated the City of Atlanta’s existing affordable housing goals and would have weakened the City’s definition of affordable housing.
On Saturday, April 23, 2016, APN reported that Councilman Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large) had quietly introduced Ordinance 16-O-1163. On Sunday, April 24, APN’s News Editor issued an Editorial and Open Letter to the Atlanta City Council in opposition to the ordinance.
About two dozen activists and stakeholders showed up at the Tuesday, April 26, CD/HR Cmte Meeting, all in opposition to the Ordinance as originally proposed.
Early morning, April 26, Councilman Dickens first notified APN that the ordinance would be held for a Work Session, which we shared on social media.
Later in the morning, Dickens decided, instead, to offer a substitute ordinance that he wanted to see passed the same day.
The Substitute Ordinance left 54-1(a) and (b)–the City’s existing definition of affordable housing at fifty percent of AMI and below; and the City’s existing affordable housing goals, which demonstrate a commitment to serving extremely low-income families–in tact.
There are some in the Administration, and at one point Councilman Dickens, who believed it no longer was part of the City’s mission to provide affordable housing for families making 30 percent of AMI or below.
Thus, had it not been for the many phone calls and emails of APN readers, along with those who showed up at the CD/HR Meeting, the original ordinance would have raised the definition of affordable housing to 80 percent of AMI and below; while erasing from the Code of Ordinances four affordable housing goals.
One of the goals that was preserved in the Code, was for the City to dedicate two-thirds of public subsidies to extremely low-income households.
In fact, Councilman Dickens was so moved by the testimony of the citizens who gave public comment that he suggested including a 30 percent AMI and below, component in a possible future City inclusionary zoning policy.
What the Cmte did pass would add a new section 54-1(c), which would require development authorities doing business in the City of Atlanta–so the Atlanta Development Authority (“Invest Atlanta”), the Fulton County Development Authority, and the DeKalb Development Authority–to include at least fifteen percent affordable units in new multi-family developments, affordable at 80 percent AMI or below.
Many citizens called for the policy to include a component at 30 percent AMI and below.
However, Dickens seemed satisfied with testimony by Dawn Luke of the ADA, stating that many recent ADA projects had included a component at 30 percent AMI and below.
Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5) made a motion to hold the ordinance, which was seconded by Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large), so that there could be more time for public engagement and stakeholder input.
However, the motion failed two to four, with Dickens, Ivory Young (District 3), Cleta Winslow (District 4), and Joyce Sheperd (District 12) voting no.
Katrina Taylor-Parks from the Mayor Kasim Reed Administration asked the Cmte to move forward on the legislation today. It was approved with four yeas, one nay by Bond, and one abstention by Archibong. Committee member Kwanza Hall (District 2) was there for the meeting, but not the vote.
Terri Lee, the Deputy Commission of Planning, noted that the discussion had already shifted in a very progressive direction.
Lee recalled working with Councilwoman Carla Smith (District 1) on a voluntary inclusionary zoning ordinance that did not get passed; now we’re talking about a mandate in connection with public funding and arguing about whether it was good enough.
“I encourage the Council to move forward with this policy so that property will now be coded each time a developer files an occupancy permit,” Lee said.
“We want policies that are impactful and enforceable,” Dawn Luke, Vice President of Community Development for the ADA, said.
“The great thing about this policy is that it levels the playing field,” Luke said, noting that, currently, the ADA has an affordable housing requirement, while the County Development Authorities do not.
“Developers would go to the development authority instead of Invest Atlanta to avoid Invest Atlanta’s policies,” Luke noted.
Many citizens expressed their support for serving extremely low-income households as part of the City of Atlanta’s policies and initiatives.
“We urge you not to adjust the definition of affordability. The greatest need is at 50% AMI or below. For open markets we understand that you may need to go to 80% AMI, but where public funds and resources are used, we’d like to see those targeted at 50% AMI or below,” Marty Collier, of the SOPOS Coalition, part of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia, said.
“We encourage you to set aside any development receiving public funding for those at 30% AMI or below. This would make it a lot easier for people with disabilities to find affordable housing. I can’t afford to live in the city. I commute every day,” Shelly Simmons, who spoke from in a wheelchair, said.
“Thirty percent of homeless have jobs in Atlanta, but they can not afford housing. Making 435 dollars a month will most likely make you homeless,” Marshall Rancifer, of Atlanta Harm Reducation, said.
“Young homeless have jobs, but many are forced into sex work to support themselves. Three hundred families are living in extended stay hotels,” Rancifer said.
“You have cited a lot of information that comes from developers, this is very concerning to us,” Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said.
“Many of us want a seat at the table, and we don’t have that right now. We know a housing wage is eighteen dollars an hour, the minimum wage is way below the poverty line,” Beaty said.
“Poverty is increasing. Things are not getting better for people at the bottom, things are getting more desperate,” Beaty said.
“We are asking for affordability to stay at 30 percent AMI. We want mixed housing to include 10 percent of units for 0-30 percent AMI,” Deborah Arnold said.
“We are in a renters’ state of emergency,” Tim Franzen, of the Housing Justice League, said.
The Housing Justice League is a recently re-branded organization, formerly known as Occupy Our Homes Atlanta. The rebranding is to focus on policy issues, in addition to saving individual homes and buildings.
“This is no time for middle-of-the-road solutions. We need solutions that mandate,” Franzen said.
“0-30 percent AMI has to be addressed, and we want to work with you. We need bold, progressive solutions,” Franzen said.
“80 percent AMI is not acceptable,” Ron Shakir said.
“We stand in support of 15 percent of all rental units being affordable units. We need an oversight committee to watch the City Council and the Developers,” Jessica Jarrett, of Georgia Stand Up, said.
“We are in the midst of a silent housing crisis,” Susan Adams, of Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, said. “I support 60% AMI as a start.”
State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta), who headed up the 2001 Gentrification Task Force that led to the enactment of 54-1(b)(1)-(4) when she served on the Atlanta City Council under Mayor Bill Campbell, spoke about the Task Force’s report.
“When the Gentrification Task Force provided recommendations to the City Council, nowhere in our documents did we use the word ‘should.’ Our language used ‘shall,’ this was changed before the Council vote,” Rep. Thomas said..
“I am so glad to know there is still a housing movement in the City of Atlanta,” Rep. Thomas said.
“There are too many homeless people in Atlanta, this is not normal to have this many homeless people,” Rep. Thomas said.
“We need to create jobs at a livable wage, people are living very low in Atlanta. We have people living in 8×10 houses in Atlanta,” Rep. Thomas said.
“I work for MARTA and I don’t even make fifteen dollars an hour,” Khalid Kamau, of the new Atlanta chapter of Black Lives Matter, said.
“People are getting pushed out of neighborhoods they helped build, like Old 4th Ward,” Hattie Dorsey, the founder of ANDP and former director, said. “80% AMI is too high, please take a deeper look.”
In a follow-up conversation with APN, Dickens said that even though the ordinance already passed Cmte, he still wants to organize a community stakeholders’ group to possibly serve the role of an Oversight Cmte.
“Creating a Commission is now one of my priorities. We need to define how many people, which organizations nominate, frequency of meetings, and other administrative things,” Dickens said in a text message.
“So we should all have a preliminary meeting to work through that. Then start notifying folks about it. That committee will keep us progressively working on issues related to housing in Atlanta. The committee should have community leaders, non-profit folks, affordable and market rate developers, etc., represented,” Dickens said.