Affordable Housing and the Atlanta BeltLine

We hear a lot about “affordable housing” in Atlanta. But what is it and what role does the Atlanta Beltline play?

The 30% Rule

In 1937, the United States National Housing Act established 30% as the threshold for determining housing affordability. This means housing is “affordable” if it doesn’t cost more than 30% of your family’s total income. However, housing expenses are not limited to rent and mortgage payments. Utilities, taxes, insurance and other related expenses also factor into the affordability equation.

Let’s look at what “affordable housing” might look like for an average, middle-class family.

Robert Jones is a fire fighter. His wife Beth works as a substitute teacher. Together, their family income is about $65,000 per year. Using the 30% rule, affordable housing for the Joneses would be about $19,500 per year ($1,625 per month). At today’s average rates, it may be difficult for the Jones family to find affordable housing in Atlanta. That’s where the affordable housing industry comes in.

The Affordable Housing Industry

There are several organizations working to ensure affordable housing for families like the Joneses.

  • The Federal Government offers a range of grants and incentives to help keep housing affordable.
  • State Governments work to obtain, match and maximize these federal grants and incentives.
  • Local Governments create zoning and other laws that impact affordable housing, and also set strategy for housing affordability through planning and strategic partnerships.
  • Non-Profits, Philanthropists, and Local Partners – like the Atlanta BeltLine – work to bridge gaps between housing authorities, local governments, and developers.
  • Developers abide by local zoning laws and use financial mechanisms provided by public and private partners to renovate existing and create new affordable housing.

Challenging Misconceptions About Affordable Housing

Some equate “affordable housing” with low income or with subsidy programs like Section 8 housing. But housing affordability programs come in many forms. The mortgage interest deduction, for instance, helps keep housing affordable. Other big misconceptions are that affordable housing is associated with higher crime rates, or that only people within specific cultural or racial groups and those with income disparities benefit from affordable housing programs.

The reality is that the 30% rule applies to everyone. “Affordable housing” is a non-political, non-partisan term that applies equally, no matter what your income is. The City of Atlanta and other groups are working hard to challenge misconceptions about affordable housing and to address the issue of housing affordability across the board.

Atlanta’s Commitment to Affordable Housing

Public and private groups are working together to address the issue of housing affordability. Here are just a few initiatives and partners focused on affordable housing in Atlanta:

  • Inclusionary Zoning: Sponsored by Councilmember Andre Dickens, Atlanta’s Inclusionary Zoning Policy went into effect in January 2018. It requires multi-family residential developers to set aside a certain number rental units for renters making 60-80% of our Area Median Income (AMI).
  • Housing Affordability Action Plan: Mayor Bottoms’ Housing Affordability Action Plan sets ambitious goals for creating and preserving affordable housing in our city. These goals include:
    • creating/preserving 20,000 affordable home by 2026.
    • investing $1 Billion to produce and preserve affordable housing.
    • supporting innovation through the establishment of a Housing Innovation Lab, improved zoning codes, and other mechanisms.
  • Invest Atlanta: Invest Atlanta is the official economic development authority for the City of Atlanta. They help developers seeking to create affordable housing find the financing they need to do so. They also offer down payment help to homebuyers.
  • Atlanta Housing: Atlanta Housing is another local resource that provides and facilitates affordable housing resources in Atlanta.
  • Others: Various private and nonprofit organizations are working on different aspects of housing affordability in Atlanta. These include the Atlanta BeltLine, House ATL, and Atlanta Land Trust.

The Atlanta BeltLine’s Role in Affordable Housing

As a leader of one of Atlanta’s primary economic development catalyst projects, Atlanta Beltline, Inc. (ABI) is committed to ensuring that future benefits flowing from the Atlanta BeltLine remain available and affordable to all Atlantans.

In May 2019 ABI announced its largest affordable housing allocation ever – $11.9 million. Of the $11.9 million commitment, ABI will allocate nearly $9 million for pre-development and land acquisition. ABI is responsible for producing 5,600 units of housing within the tax allocation district by 2030, with a target affordability level of 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) for 15 years. Control of land and influence over development allow ABI to meet and exceed these goals with deeper affordability over longer time periods.

In the long-term, adding transit to the BeltLine corridor will also have a positive impact. For families like the Joneses, transportation and housing costs are closely intertwined. Lower cost housing is often further away from centers of work. Transportation costs and long commute times often cancel out the economic benefits of living further away. The Atlanta BeltLine will link communities and provide easier transit access for families like the Joneses.

In Summary

Ensuring access to housing affordability requires cooperation between parties with diverse interests. Developers, the public sector, housing authorities, and catalyst projects like the Atlanta BeltLine all have important parts to play.

“Affordable housing” is a term that applies to everyone equally, across all income levels. Affordable housing supports the vitality of communities by providing a diversity of housing options to existing and new residents. For families like the Joneses, having access to housing that doesn’t exceed 30% of their income means that they can reinvest the other 70% of their earnings in their local economy. Their opportunity is Atlanta’s opportunity, and the Atlanta BeltLine is excited to contribute to equity and opportunity for all Atlantans.

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