Photo: Group panel on neighborhood revitalization (ANDP)
By John O’Callaghan, President & CEO Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership
Last week, Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council scored a significant victory for Atlanta families by unanimously approving $40 million in bonds to support critically needed affordable housing initiatives in the city. The funding will help preserve existing homes, fund critical home repairs and support new housing development.
The Housing Opportunity Bond is the latest in a string of policy actions by the City, Invest Atlanta and the BeltLine to counter the two biggest housing challenges facing the city – displacement and disinvestment.
The BeltLine’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is benefiting from $14m as a result of recently issued bonds. The Regional Commission on Homelessness has received a pledge of $25 million from the Mayor to match $25 million in philanthropic funding. Invest Atlanta has led efforts to increase affordable housing through local government lease purchase bonds.
Despite these successes, much work is left to be done. Home prices and rents are surging in many Atlanta neighborhoods, yet others are struggling with depressed housing values and high rates of negative equity where homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. In Atlanta’s 30310 zip code, nearly 1 in 2 homes are underwater. Decades of disinvestment in communities like Pittsburgh have only been compounded by the foreclosure crisis. But work on the ground must move forward.
A report from Invest Atlanta shows that nearly 1 in 2 rental households in Atlanta are cost burdened – meaning they are paying a larger percentage of their household budget in housing than they should. And the matter is getting worse. Quickly rising rental rates are pricing low-income families out of the City. In Atlanta, the average one-bedroom apartment rate has increased from $878 in 2011 to $1,328 in 2016.
A variety of tools are needed to face the dual threats of rising housing costs in “hot” neighborhoods and continued disinvestment in others. Some leaders estimate that Atlanta needs to invest over a billion dollars in the next four years in affordable housing or risk becoming the next San Francisco – a beautiful, vibrant city only affordable to a fraction of its wage earners. The good news is that Atlanta’s elected leaders have responded to public calls to address the issue now.
The reality is that additional policy tools are needed. Councilmember Andre Dickens has introduced thoughtful inclusionary zoning ordinance for the BeltLine. The TransFormation Alliance and other advocates are working to put proposals for a “Living Transit” fund before the MARTA Board and Atlanta City Council. Additional revenue from future bonds or permanent funding sources must be carved from future city budgets. Thousands of families and scores of neighborhoods are at risk and the clock is ticking.
Today, I am especially thankful for the “expanded” affordable housing tool set made possible by the work of neighborhood leaders, advocates, Mayor Reed, our City Council, Invest Atlanta, Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and others. Tomorrow, I look forward to working with thousands of citizens, advocates and policy makers to fill out the funding and tools needed to make “Atlanta, a home for all.”