A Note from Mark Pendergrast, author of City on the Verge. I asked all of the Atlanta mayoral candidates to write guest blogs for this website. I am still awaiting their submissions. In the meantime, see this good coverage of mayoral opinions on how to solve the affordable housing crisis, from the Atlanta Business Chronicle: 

Housing and the mayor’s race

How important is affordable housing to the leading candidates for mayor? And what will they do to create more of it?

Jul 28, 2017

Affordable housing in Atlanta. Who has the answer? Atlanta Business Chronicle asks Atlanta’s mayoral candidates

Atlanta Business Chronicle asks Atlanta’s mayoral candidates: Where does the issue of affordable housing rank among your priorities if you are elected mayor of Atlanta?

Affordable housing is more than just a buzz word. It’s a complex issue affecting the growth of Atlanta, a city that could reach a population of 1.2 million by 2040.

Across the nation, Atlanta in recent years has had one of largest declines in low-cost units, or those units that cost $750 or less per month.

From 2010 to 2014, Atlanta lost 5,309 low-cost units, according to a May 2016 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta that was led by Georgia Tech professor Dan Immergluck.

Today, about 95 percent of new apartments being built are considered luxury, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

But the issues extend well beyond that.

Even though we are years past the foreclosure crisis of 2007, nearly 20 percent of residents in the city of Atlanta still live in negative equity, meaning their mortgages are larger than the value of their houses, according to data compiled by the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc.

There are challenges with rising transportation costs in the city, and declining homeownership rates.

The supply of new homes is low. Today, Atlanta’s housing inventory is at 2.4 months. A six-month supply is considered healthy, according to the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc.

Wages aren’t rising as fast as home prices. That’s causing some people who are cost burdened to move out of the city and to the suburbs where there are less resources to help them. It’s a notion known as suburbanization of poverty.

And there is a growing need for services and housing options for the homeless, especially with the pending closure of Atlanta’s Peachtree-Pine shelter.

It’s a complex issue and certainly not one that’s easy to solve. The issue of housing affordability has emerged as a more serious issue since the end of the Great Recession, as rebounding home prices have driven up the city’s historically moderate housing costs.

To help voters understand where Atlanta’s mayoral candidates stand on the issue, Atlanta Business Chronicle surveyed the top nine people vying for the position to hear their stance on affordable housing and strategies they’d employ if elected.

“I hope it becomes the No. 1 focus for mayoral candidates,” said Ryan Gravel, who created the vision for the Atlanta Beltline. Last September, Gravel and Nathaniel Smith both resigned from the board of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership over issues of equity and affordability.

“There is nothing more important,” Gravel said. “It’s much more urgent than traffic and parks and everything else. If we don’t solve this then this city will fundamentally change in ways we have no control over anymore.”

Most affordable housing experts agree the time is now. “I think it’s at its most severe since I’ve been working at the ARC for 18 years,” said Mike Carnathan, manager of the research and analytics division at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Action is needed, said John O’Callaghan, president and CEO of Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership.

“The great news is, in the last year, the current mayor has approved over $125 million of new funding for affordable housing,” he said. “The market isn’t doing it on its own. An additional $250 million will be needed and even that wouldn’t address all of the needs.”

Other solutions could include inclusionary zoning, more resources for acquiring and rehabbing single-family homes, and new tools including community land trusts, O’Callaghan said.

“It really is deeply, deeply complicated work,” said Lesley Grady, senior vice president of community for the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta. “I think we have a lot of challenges, but are also at a really catalytic moment.”

She sees opportunity for more affordable housing in areas including around the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and at projects such as the redevelopment of Fort McPherson. Transit-oriented development around MARTA stations is key, too.

And even with the recent criticism about the lack of affordable housing that’s come around the Beltline, which promised some 5,000 units but has produced far less to date, Grady still sees opportunity there.

“Nobody wants to go back to housing projects,” Grady said. “The solution is bringing people together in a way that makes sense. We should be diverse. That is a somewhat newer concept.”

Some headway has been made recently.

Last year, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed approved an ordinance that requires developers receiving government subsidies to set aside 15 percent of units for those people who make 80 percent of the area median income or 10 percent of units for residents who make 60 percent of the area median income.

It seems to be helping. At its July 20 meeting, the city’s economic development agency Invest Atlanta approved five projects that would create 493 units of affordable and workforce housing.

They include The Avery at Underground Atlanta, a $36.7 million project that will provide 150 income-restricted units for those households earning 60 percent of the area median income.

“I believe it is essential for every public agency in Atlanta to prioritize affordability, and I look forward to continuing to work with the development community to ensure more of our residents have access to affordable, high-quality housing,” Reed said in a statement.

For those wanting to hear more from their mayoral candidates, the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum is holding a forum Sept. 6 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Two groups, City for All and TransFormation Alliance, are producing the event that will delve into housing issues in the city. More details are at www.AtlantaRegionalHousing.org.

Atlanta Business Chronicle asks Atlanta’s mayoral candidates:

Where does the issue of affordable housing rank among your priorities if you are elected mayor of Atlanta? Please share some specific strategies you would employ to increase the amount of affordable housing in Atlanta. (Responses are in alphabetical order).

Peter Aman

“As Mayor, one of my top priorities is to remove the silos on areas of citywide impact, particularly housing and transportation. I will bring city government, the Atlanta Housing Authority, Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta Beltline, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, and Atlanta Public Schools together — along with the civic community and developers — to comprehensively and systematically increase affordable housing options.

This collaborative approach will lead to, inform, and complement the work of neighborhood-based solutions such as Community Development Corporations and Land Trusts. These offer numerous wins. Ownership is retained locally so that the growth and character of properties are charted by the people it most closely affects, and these solutions buffer against market forces that would otherwise push rent prices up.

Other solutions include issuing another Housing Opportunity Bond and site-specific negotiations.

Inclusionary zoning is one way to go and can be effective. But, we can also do simple things like reducing the required number of parking spots at a transit-oriented development in exchange for a given number of affordable units — a savings of up to $34,000 per space removed.

I’ll conclude by voicing my support for public-philanthropic partnerships, such as 3Star Communities. Organizations that look beyond housing to even more holistic solutions have my backing — in this case linking affordable housing with after-school programs.

Beyond affordable housing, we must also work to make homelessness ‘rare and brief’ and ensure our seniors can age in place.”

Keisha Lance Bottoms

“My family lived in the Vine City/English Avenue area for decades and was dispersed when new apartments were built. I witnessed my mother have to close her business in the West End when their rent was raised due to the anticipation of the redevelopment boom that was to accompany the 1996 Olympics. Thus, I am ever mindful of the question — What will the redevelopment of Atlanta mean for low income residents and small businesses in the surrounding communities?

With that concern top of mind, I began to research ‘smart’ gentrification programs around the world and ultimately called upon the City of Atlanta to explore the creation of Displacement Free Zones. I was thrilled when less than a year later, a public and private partnership was announced creating a fund to help keep Atlanta affordable for ALL residents.

Addressing the issue of affordable housing is a top priority and my call for the creation of Displacement Free Zones was just the start.

As Mayor, I will:

  • Appoint an Affordable Housing Czar, reporting directly to me, to continue to address this issue.
  • Work closely with the corporate and nonprofit community to create a city-wide fund to protect low income families from rising property taxes and allow them to stay in their homes.
  • Work to ensure property owners never again face the outrageous property tax increases we recently saw in Fulton County; many increases were upwards of 200 percent or more. I am the only elected candidate who has NEVER voted in support of a property tax increase.”

John Eaves

“Affordable housing is a top priority of my campaign to be Mayor of Atlanta. I fervently believe that ‘all communities must be economically vibrant and accessible.’ This applies to all residents whether they live in Buckhead, Bankhead, Inman Park or Cascade Heights.

As one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, the Atlanta housing market is becoming more robust, yet it is becoming unaffordable for growing segments of our population, including the elderly, families living in poverty, military veterans, and recent college graduates.

The median income of Atlanta residents is far below the qualifying mortgage amount for the average cost of a home. Furthermore, Atlanta has high foreclosure rates, and it has the unenviable distinction of having the highest eviction rates than any other city in the country.

To address the issue of housing affordability, I successfully led the Fulton County Commission to freeze residential property assessments at 2016 levels on June 21, 2017. This bold move returns millions of tax dollars to residential property owners. While this action is a temporary stay, I am committed to executing the following initiatives:

  1. Adopt a more aggressive tax homestead exemption for seniors, veterans, the disabled, and those on fixed incomes.
  2. Place a moratorium on high-rise housing units in Buckhead and Midtown and incentivize new development in areas south of I-20.
  3. Mandate that all new development that receives public financing from Invest Atlanta set aside 25 percent of its housing units for workforce housing.
  4. Constitute an Eviction Court to mitigate all disputes between landlords and tenants before an eviction can be executed through the Marshal’s Office.”

Vincent Fort

“My top priority as Mayor will be to stop gentrification of the city. Depending on what study one consults gentrification in Atlanta has increased from 10 to 20 percent 10 years ago to 50 to 70 percent today. If we don’t implement specific policies to reverse this trend, Atlanta will be 80 to 85 percent gentrified by 2021.

Those policies include increased funding for affordable housing; revised definition of affordable housing; inclusionary zoning; reassessment of development tax incentives; restructuring of city’s development policies and agencies. This will also include examining impediments to maintenance of neighborhoods in Atlanta and solutions used by other cities, both legal and advocacy, to hold those private entities accountable.

This reordering of the city’s priorities will include holding the Beltline accountable for the commitments made to develop affordable housing. This must happen.

The other people who are running for Mayor have been at City Hall or other local governments for eight, 12, and 16 years. They have served during the greatest period of gentrification in the history of the city.

In the last few months, they have begun discussing issues of gentrification and income inequality. Some have even authored ineffectual and toothless ‘displacement free zone’ legislation.

Otherwise, they have collaborated with developers to prioritize skyscrapers, taxpayer-subsidized luxury condos, billionaires, and mega projects over working people and neighborhoods.

While they were enriching billionaires, I was fighting the financial industry for their exploitive predatory lending practices, passing the strongest anti-predatory lending law in the country.”

Kwanza Hall

“Affordable housing is the most challenging issue that Atlanta will need to solve over the next four years. There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution; it’s a complex problem that requires a whole range of solutions.

I am best-suited to bring about these solutions because I’ve been doing it in my own Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. While it’s true that the average rent has skyrocketed in the Old Fourth Ward, new housing developed around the Historic Fourth Ward Park was built on empty land and didn’t displace people.

During this time, I led efforts to add new affordable units, like the 87 new senior apartments on Boulevard, with another 96 units for families opening next year.

Because Georgia does not allow rent control or inclusionary zoning, we need to focus our solutions on the supply side of the market. As Mayor, my housing priorities will be to:

Deliver at least 10,000 new units at a variety of price points, utilizing Atlanta Housing Authority property or other land and by buying down the cost of the land around corridors needing redevelopment that are served by transit.

Encourage more diversity in housing types, including micro-housing, duplexes and garden apartments, in existing neighborhoods and expand on the Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation I passed this spring.

Restore and increase the capacity of Community Development Corporations across Atlanta and ensure that smaller, local investors can have a financial stake in the success of their community.”

Ceasar Mitchell

“As Mayor, I will make affordable housing a top priority and lead the charge to implement smart and actionable strategies to address this critical issue on Day One.

Specifically, this means protecting seniors and long-time residents from displacement and increasing housing access to poor and working-class families, while also advancing the city’s development. Striking this balance is a tall order, but my expertise as a real estate attorney, combined with my 16 years of public service, makes me uniquely qualified to implement the following best practices:

Inclusionary Zoning: As Mayor, I will revise the city’s current Affordable Housing Policy to require ALL new residential developments receiving government subsidies to increase the availability of affordable housing. Thoughtful use of inclusionary zoning can help ensure the benefits of Atlanta’s development are shared widely — not just by a select few.

Displacement Free City: No resident should be priced out of her home due to redevelopment. My plan includes placing caps on annual property tax hikes to help prevent residents and small businesses from being displaced due to revitalization.

Blight to Light Program: By transforming 5,000 of the city’s abandoned and dilapidated homes into affordable workforce housing, we can ensure working families can afford to live in the communities in which they serve.

Community Land Trust: Increasing land costs are a major obstacle to developing housing at rates affordable to low and moderate-income residents. To address this barrier, I will develop a Community Land Trust initiative, in which entities create trusts that acquire land and maintain ownership of the land permanently.”

Mary Norwood

“As Mayor, I will work to mitigate and prevent displacement of the working poor and to increase the amount of affordable housing. This is crucial for Atlanta’s economic, cultural and social fabric. Hundreds of businesses rely on low-wage workers. Enabling employees to work and live within reasonable proximity is vital to ensure a robust jobs engine, and to also alleviate congestion and make good on Atlanta’s promise of opportunity and prosperity. While there is no one ‘best practice’ to address the complex challenges of gentrification and rising costs of living in the city, we can institute a set of policies to encourage varied and affordable housing. These points constitute data-driven public policies that have succeeded in New York, Chicago and Boston. I will work to see Atlanta implement them:

  • Protect senior homeowners.
  • Reduce, freeze or delay property taxes in impacted areas for owner-occupied dwellings.
  • Work with landlords who provide low income/affordable housing to rehab and improve their properties in exchange for tax abatement.
  • Work with HUD, AHA and Invest Atlanta to create ‘stabilization’ vouchers.
  • Aggressively fund/build middle-income housing.
  • Use city-owned property to create low-income (30 percent AMI) housing.
  • Use judicial in-rem to recycle blighted properties for affordable housing.
  • Establish an Employer-Assisted Workforce Housing Program.
  • Set attainable goals on the units of workforce housing built annually.”

Michael Sterling

“I believe that affordable housing and economic development go hand in hand. The fabric of our city depends on everyone feeling welcome and having the opportunity to live in the city, including teachers, firefighters, laborers and more.

Affordable housing is critical to my overall vision of what it means to create a more inclusive and promising Atlanta, so it’s a serious priority for me.

Specifically, I would work with city council to change the city’s current governing definition of affordable housing. The city uses 80 percent of AMI and I believe it should be lower. We should also look to build innovative solutions for affordability such as container home and tiny home models employed in other cities and states.

I believe we should revisit the percentage of affordable homes and the period of time affordable homes have to be offered when the city is providing incentives to developers. Developers have to play a role and they have to see the long-term benefits of affordable housing.

Finally, for primary residential homeowners, I believe taxes have a lot to do with affordability. We cannot have election-year gamesmanship played with tax assessments. We have to maintain reasonable and consistent tax assessments for long-term residential homeowners who have invested in our city. I would work with our state partners to seek a cap on the percentage that property taxes can be raised per year so that residents never get that shocking tax increase again. I would also ask for a state waiver to look at opportunities for some rent control mechanisms.

There is no silver bullet. It’s going to require us working on affordability on many different fronts at once.”

Cathy Woolard

“Housing and transportation are the top priorities for me as the next Mayor of Atlanta. The two are intimately linked. How people move around our city impacts housing choices for everyone. Our ability to provide affordable housing for people at all income levels is assisted when transportation is included in the equation. Our most urgent priority is to secure long-term housing affordability for those at the lowest levels of income.

Here are three solution-oriented strategies I can implement quickly as Mayor:

  1. Innovative use of public assets— City-owned assets like the Civic Center site and property owned along the Atlanta Beltline should be used to create new affordable housing options by providing land for the private sector to build what we need or building housing in partnership with non-profit housing groups or our own Atlanta Housing Authority.
  2. Sustainable housing infrastructure expansion policies— By using a combination of public policy to mandate inclusionary housing development, appropriate land use regulations, dedicated revenue streams and targeted financial incentives we can work to ensure that affordable housing is located in fast-growing areas and offers access to jobs, quality education, community parks, and basic commercial services like grocery stores and pharmacies.
  3. Transit inclusive development— Transportation costs in terms of money and time impact low-income residents the most. By developing transit-oriented housing and expanding and improving our public transit and mobility infrastructure, we can help reduce the cost of living and give Atlantans more options to get where they need to go without using cars for every trip.

 

Amy Wenk
Staff Writer
Atlanta Business Chronicle

 

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