11 Questions for Atlanta’s Mayoral Candidates

Kwanza Hall

Kwanza Hall
Kwanza Hall

Photograph courtesy of Kwanza Hall Campaign

1. According to Invest Atlanta’s housing strategy, tens of thousands of Atlantans, particularly those living on low incomes, spend more than one-third of their income on housing. How will you use the powers of your office to help people stay in their homes and people living on lower incomes afford to live in the city?
Affordable housing is a major challenge that Atlanta most address in the immediate future. There is no “silver bullet” solution; it’s a complex problem that requires a whole range of solutions. Because Georgia prohibits rent control and inclusionary zoning may be limited legally as well, we need to focus our solutions on the supply side of the market. In 2005, we lost 32 affordable apartments to a fire in Bedford Pine. I led the effort to bring City Lights, an affordable senior housing development with 87 units to reality, and I’m excited that we’ll be adding 96 more units for families in the next year. We need to do that all over the city and focus our efforts where we control the land cost and can tell developers exactly what we expect, rather than the other way around.

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 appropriate 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, that can be incorporated into 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.

2. Atlanta is dotted with memorials to the Confederacy, ranging from street names to statues. Should they be kept, removed, or modified?
I look forward to reviewing the recommendations on this topic that will be made by Committee created by legislation I cosponsored in August. I think we should take those recommendations and move forward with legislation to retire Confederate streets and monuments with as much input from our neighborhoods, businesses, and communities as possible. The Confederacy should be learned about in books, online, and in museums, but not celebrated in our everyday lives.

3. Many mayors have struggled with reducing homelessness in the city. Mayor Kasim Reed called for the creation of smaller facilities with services to help this population. Will you continue such a plan or do you have an alternative?
Affordable housing, job creation and training, and the goal of making homelessness brief, rare, and nonrecurring go hand-in-hand. I am optimistic about the transition away from Peachtree-Pine. I don’t believe that a single nonprofit organization that doesn’t have the support of the mayor, the business community, and the philanthropic community is in a position to own this problem as they have been. Addressing the suite of issues including mental illness, substance abuse, lack of job opportunities, and transportation cannot be put on one organization.

I think a shelter of the size of Peachtree-Pine is an antiquated business model, and what is needed is to provide the total suite of wrap-around services that people need to get back on their feet. I believe that shelters of 50 or so beds can more effectively give people a chance to transition out of homelessness. We’ve never been in a better position to do better for those most in need in our community that we have with the recent passage of the $25 million Homeless Opportunity Bond that is being matched with another $25 million of private funds.

4. Atlanta voters approved a sales tax that will raise approximately $2.5 billion for new transit in the city. How should that money be spent?
I am proud that many of the ideas I offered for our transportation expansion referendums are now part of the plans: start with buses, expand the Streetcar and turn operations over to MARTA, and expand light rail in dedicated right-of-way, not in the middle of traffic.

I will provide the regional leadership that’s been missing to make the multimodal station we’ve been talking about for 20 years reality. I am committed to working with Gwinnett and Cobb leaders to support their joining MARTA, a move that will strengthen and expand our regional transit infrastructure dramatically.

We know that we have some work to do to make taking transit realistic for many and those trips more efficient for those who don’t have the choice. As mayor, land use, affordable housing and transportation decisions will go hand in hand. Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure will be a forethought, not an afterthought.

Finally, will position Atlanta as a city for the future as technology evolves. We will be ready for driverless cars and other emerging and disruptive technologies. I will continue to support the North Avenue Smart Corridor demonstration project, and my team will learn from the success and challenges of this project as we undertake installation of new cameras, bike and pedestrian sensors, and traffic-sensing signals on this corridor. These tools will increase safety and improve traffic flow while saving time and money and lowering pollution, and we work to create other Smart Corridors all around Atlanta.

5. The city’s zoning code hasn’t been updated in decades. City officials are planning a multi-year rewrite. What changes would you like to see in the city’s zoning and where?

  • Parking: We need to rethink our approach altogether. We allow and even require way too much parking some places, but we have tightened back in others, like along Edgewood Avenue, to the point where it’s not working for anyone. The cost of parking should be consistent and reflect the true cost to our city to provide it so that other modes can compete better and this can help fund needed transportation infrastructure.
  • Missing middle: The Tiny House Feasibility Study I initiated really opened my eyes to the extent to which we don’t allow for the full variety of housing types in our neighborhoods. We have built a lot of single family homes and a lot of large luxury apartment developments. We now need to focus on everything in between: duplexes, triplexes, quads, small garden apartment complexes, accessory dwelling units. These types of housing can be accessible for average people to own and can help build wealth and reduce the income inequality gap while providing more options for people in different stages of life.
  • Design standards: I have always been a proponent of density, and I think it can be a lot more palatable in our neighborhoods if we establish some guidelines for design.

6. Say a recession occurs during your term. What’s the first program you cut? Or do you raise revenues, and how? Or do you pull money from the city’s reserves to keep government operating at the same level?
Our reserves are very healthy, but pulling from there should be the last resort. I would look for efficiencies, like a “pay as you throw” solid waste program which would incentivize people to waste less, recycle more, lower our tipping fees at the landfill, and possibly even allow us to pick up trash and recycling every other week. I also want to explore a parking tax.

7. Candidates say they want to improve education in the city. But Atlanta Public Schools is a separate entity and the city has no direct control over school policy. So how do you improve public education in the city?
While the City of Atlanta does not play a role in the management of our public schools, the mayor can work in a more cooperative fashion with the Atlanta School Board and the school superintendent in ways that will help the schools to achieve their mission. And though the core focus of the school day is outside the scope of mayoral responsibilities, there is much that the city can do through after-school programs, both of a recreational and an academic nature. It has been reported that the few hours between the end of the school day and dinner time are one of the riskiest times for school-age kids.

One specific program that I would seek to replicate and expand throughout Atlanta is the Year of Boulevard, that I initiated in the Bedford Pine neighborhood in 2012. That initiative has brought together various public and private non-profit entities to offer multiple activities and programs, not just for our youth but for entire communities. Year of Boulevard has been widely recognized for its success in connecting a once disconnected community with the resources and capacity needed to uplift to the area’s youth and young mothers.

8. Atlanta’s arts scene is growing, particularly the independent arts scene, but funding remains an issue. Mayor Kasim Reed during the 2017 legislative session proposed a fractional sales tax to raise cash for the arts but the effort failed. Would you lobby for a similar initiative?
As mayor I will continue my role as a convenor, connector, and champion of the arts, seeking to unite the various entities for mutual benefit and optimal outcome. I support revisiting .01 percent sales tax referendum to support the arts. There are cities that are much higher volume and more structurally supportive of the arts than Atlanta. As mayor I will ensure that we open the floodgates of support from old and new sources, like venture capital, who will benefit from the increased strength of our arts community.

9. Simple question: How many police officers does Atlanta have, how many does it need, and how will your pay for them?
Atlanta has around 1,700 police officers and our goal continues to be 2,000, which I support. I think to get to that level we need to modernize training facilities and make being a cop in Atlanta more rewarding. I think the Pre-Arrest Diversion program I sponsored is a good step in that direction. We depend upon police officers to be the primary interface with our constituents, acting as social workers and law enforcement professionals. If we can do a better job of serving those most in need, we can let cops go back to being cops. Our communities will be safer because police/community relationships will be stronger, retention will be better, and officers will find more satisfaction with their work.

10. The city has discussed deprioritizing marijuana, making the penalty of possession similar to a traffic ticket. If the topic is still up for debate when you take office, what will you do? [Note: Atlanta City Council passed this legislation in October—after this survey was submitted to the candidates.]
I am pleased that my legislation to reclassify possession of marijuana as a non-jailable offense passed unanimously on October 2nd. The experts tell us that people of all colors here in Atlanta use marijuana at the same rates, so it is unconscionable that more than 90 percent of those locked up for possession of it  black. This is about putting an end to racially biased policing and making sure our young people are not unfairly being targeted and penalized. There is more to do, and as mayor I will continue to be a leader on these issues.

11. Neighborhoods that have traditionally been home to black residents and black-owned businesses have watched property values and rents rise thanks to new public investments like the BeltLine and a renewed interest in city life. Displacement is a key concern. How can the mayor prevent not just people losing their homes, but people losing their communities?
The first neighborhood master plan I initiated as the District 2 Councilmember was the Old Fourth Ward’s in 2007. Neighborhood leaders expressed a desire to protect long time residents, and we developed a nondisplacement strategy.

As mayor I will explore all avenues to protect long term residents and property owners across Atlanta, but particularly so in increasingly attractive neighborhoods. Among other initiatives we must have a program to educate and assist property owners to deal with tempting purchase offers for their homes. Additionally we must explore the possibility of freezing property-specific taxes in some areas for long-term resident owners.

I will always be open to creative ideas that encourage the renovation and rejuvenation of existing neighborhoods while protecting their character and securing the rights of local property owners.