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Affordable Housing – The Challenge and the Opportunity

By David A. Jackson, Deputy Executive Director, Atlanta BeltLine Partnership

This article appeared originally as a Thought Leadership column in the Saporta Report on December 20, 2016.

As the new deputy executive director for the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, I am excited to join the team whose mission is to Enable the Atlanta BeltLine project and to Engage and Empower the people who live, work and play around it. A fundamental tenet of the Partnership’s Empower strategy is to work with myriad stakeholders – government, philanthropy, business, non-profit, community, and institutional partners – to help strengthen Atlanta BeltLine communities, particularly in the areas of health, housing and economic opportunity.

With about a decade of the project behind us, it’s proven that where the Atlanta BeltLine is built, quality neighborhood amenities follow. Not surprisingly, people desire to live in places that offer these high-quality amenities, leading to increased demand for housing in neighborhoods near the Atlanta BeltLine. Highly sought after neighborhoods providing quality amenities usually experience upward price pressures, and Atlanta BeltLine neighborhoods are no exception. Developing ways to retain longtime residents and provide affordable workforce housing in these high demand neighborhoods is a challenge across the country, and similarly, along the Atlanta BeltLine.

stanton-oaks

Earlier this year the former Boynton Village in Peoplestown was renovated and reopened as Stanton Oaks Apartments. The 43-unit family apartment complex received a complete upgrade and tenants returned to their upgraded Stanton Oaks apartment homes with no increase in rent. This redevelopment was the result of a public-private partnership between Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., Invest Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Woda Group, Inc. and Parallel Housing, Inc.

To address this challenge, the Atlanta BeltLine enabling legislation committed our partners at Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) to create 5,600 units of affordable housing by 2030. Progress is being made – see http://beltline.org/progress/affordable-housing/ – and new funding raised from the latest BeltLine bond series and the annual ABI budget will dedicate over $18 million for affordable housing over the next three years.

Many cities are working to develop sufficient amounts of affordable housing in rapidly improving markets through programs that help fund, build, retain and preserve affordable housing units. Recent legislation by Atlanta City Council members are exploring similar policies such as:

  • Requiring a percentage of affordable workforce housing units in residential developments that receive funding from City of Atlanta development authorities (enacted earlier this year)
  • Establishing a housing trust fund to provide a consistent and predictable source of financing for affordable housing development deals
  • Creating a mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require a set aside for affordable workforce housing in all new multifamily housing developments
  • Studying the creation of “Displacement Free Zones” to prevent the displacement of low-income property and business owners due to the impact of gentrification.

As Atlanta considers these opportunities to advance affordable housing development, we can benefit from the experience of other cities where private, public and philanthropic partners have combined efforts. Two examples are:

  • The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative in Minnesota, which worked to unlock the transformative potential of a new rail line running between Saint Paul and Minneapolis. The collaborative completed its work in 2016 as planned and more information is available at http://www.funderscollaborative.org/.
  • The New York City Housing Partnership serves as the City’s primary intermediary for the development of affordable workforce housing and assists in the development, promotion, and revitalization of affordable homeownership and rental housing. Through its partners, the Housing Partnership brings substantial private investment into New York City neighborhoods. More information is available at http://housingpartnership.com/

lofts-at-reynoldstown

In 2011, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. purchased the former Triumph Lofts development from a receivership to provide critically-needed affordable housing in an increasingly desirable part of the city. ABI reopened the development as the Lofts at Reynoldstown Crossing later that year and provided downpayment assistance to teachers, police officers and others making less than $68,000 annually.

The opportunity exists to make 2017 a breakthrough year for identifying and creating the funding, policy and programs that will provide the affordable workforce housing solutions we all know are needed. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership is committed to working with ABI, the City of Atlanta, and other stakeholders to identify and deliver these solutions. We encourage you to educate yourself about the challenge of affordable housing and the potential solutions – and to support your elected officials in moving these solutions forward. The Atlanta BeltLine has already proven to be a groundbreaking, innovative and catalytic project, made possible by the commitment of myriad partners.  There’s no reason to believe we can’t use that same commitment to model and implement new best practices for the development and preservation of affordable workforce housing, which would provide a powerful example of quality mixed-income community development for other cities grappling with this challenge.

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