The Power of “We”

The following article first appeared as a Saporta Report Thought Leadership column on March 21, 2017.

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

We are grappling as a city with the issue of affordable housing.

The most powerful word in that sentence is “we.” As Atlanta wrestles with defining the challenge, identifying solutions, and rallying people and resources, our success will depend on how we work together as a community. This doesn’t mean we all see the challenge in exactly the same way. It doesn’t mean we will always agree about the solutions. It doesn’t mean it will be easy to rally people and resources. But it does mean we must address this issue together.

This is a complicated, difficult challenge that we are all struggling with. The seeds of change lay within the collective focus, resources, thinking, and even angst we bring to bear on affordable housing. The power of “we” provides the energy we need to harness and organize. We can be a movement that makes Atlanta a more equitable city by working together to create affordable living opportunities for all.

The Atlanta BeltLine itself is one of Atlanta’s greatest examples of a movement born out of a complex set of challenges. Building on ideas that had long been contemplated, a grassroots movement embraced the Atlanta BeltLine as a new way forward for Atlanta. That vision gained momentum, including additional innovative concepts (a linear arboretum, for example) as the movement for change was building. Thanks to the power of “we,” significant political, philanthropic, corporate and community leadership joined the movement, resulting in the City of Atlanta government memorializing, through legislation, the plan to make the vision a reality. Today, the Atlanta BeltLine is an extraordinarily ambitious program of transformation addressing mobility, connectivity, health, economic development – and, yes, affordability.

However, despite the foresight the founders of the Atlanta BeltLine movement and the builders of the program had in anticipating affordability as a challenge, and as much as the Atlanta BeltLine has contributed to addressing the issue, affordable living has grown as a need for Atlanta, just as it has in cities across our country – and this challenge is not impacting everyone equally.

So where are we today?

There are numerous agencies and organizations in Atlanta who have made extensive investments in affordable housing, including the City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta Housing Authority, Atlanta/Fulton Land Bank Authority, and MARTA.  Recently, Atlanta City Council approved $40 million in citywide Housing Opportunity Bond funding, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. committed an estimated $18 million over three years for affordable housing near the Atlanta BeltLine, and the TransFormation Alliance succeeded in making Atlanta one of six cities eligible for a portion of $90 million in grants from the Strong, Prosperous And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC).

Despite these investments and other successes, there is still work to be done.  We can succeed only if we each play our respective roles in creating and coordinating policies, programs and resources that build and preserve affordable living opportunities for all.

lofts-at-reynoldstown-crossing - hi-res Stanton-Oaks-hi res

The Lofts at Reynoldstown Crossing (top) and Stanton Oaks are examples of two early Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. affordable housing success stories.

In a series of articles in this space – and in conversations outside it – the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership will provide perspectives from Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., along with other government, philanthropic, real estate development, civic, and community leaders with a goal of inspiring a vision of systemic change. Together we will address:

  • Policies impacting land use and development
  • Successful affordable housing production models
  • Impactful investments of public, private, and philanthropic capital

Our aim will be to catalyze a conversation that leads to a path “we” can take forward together.  A path in which you can envision how you, your community, your company, your organization, your foundation can be a part of the solution.

Just as we’ve experienced with the Atlanta BeltLine over the past decade, the vision will undoubtedly evolve. Unanticipated challenges will arise. Opportunities will, too. Through it all, Atlanta will succeed in addressing the need for affordable living options just as Atlanta is succeeding with the Atlanta BeltLine. Because we – all of us together – will be the change we wish to see.

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