11 Questions for Atlanta’s Mayoral Candidates

Mary Norwood

Mary Norwood
Mary Norwood

Photograph courtesy Atlanta City Council

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?
As Mayor I will work with all interested parties to increase the supply of affordable housing. There is no one “best practice” on addressing this issue. However, we as a city can institute a set of policies designed to increase the number of units of affordable housing. There are three main types of instruments: unit set-asides, monetary or other compensation to builder/developers, and rent control. Of these, Atlanta has the legal authority to act upon unit set-asides and builder/developer compensation. It takes vision and political will to have a desirable, inclusive community in which we want for our city.

A Norwood administration would strive to implement the following policies:

Protecting Senior Homeowners: Property taxes are a major issue for low- and moderate-income.

  • The city should increase funding in for existing senior home repair programs with priority placed upon gentrifying areas of the city.
  • Appoint and form a joint Property Tax Task Force between the city of Atlanta, Fulton County Government, and the Atlanta Public School Board to develop a uniform policy on property tax deferral for seniors with incomes under $55,000.
  • Develop a “Senior Match” program for seniors who own two or three bedroom homes to rent to college students or other single individuals. Seniors who rent could be rewarded with a property tax discount, (not to mention additional income). This program could be an initiative of the city’s existing Office of Housing and Community Development.

Reduce, freeze or delay property taxes in impacted areas:

  • Deferring property taxes until the home is sold
  • Developing a uniform tax reduction policy
  • Or developing a joint policy of a freeze on property taxes when city makes a determination that a neighborhood is at risk

Prohibit large-scale development in at-risk neighborhoods.

Work with Department of Housing and Urban Development, Atlanta Housing Authority, and Invest Atlanta to create “stabilization vouchers” (not a quick fix).

Aggressively fund middle-income housing and aggressively build middle-income housing (the city as a developer).

  • Set attainable goals on the units of workforce housing built annually
  • Affordable housing financing—the central conduit by which the city, AHA, and Invest Atlanta coordinate financing activities
  • Affordable housing accountability, oversight, and development
  • Housing and senior home repair program
  • Down payment assistance
  • Coordination of homelessness activities and programs

Use the judicial in-rem process to rehab properties into affordable homes.

Utilize city-owned properties, where appropriate.

2. Atlanta is dotted with memorials to the Confederacy, ranging from street names to statues. Should they be kept, removed, or modified?
The current administration is addressing this issue with a citizens review commission. Citizen input from the impacted Neighborhood Planning Units and neighborhoods is crucial to any decision-making process. I support the efforts of the mayor and the community to address this sensitive issue. I look forward to the recommendations of the review commission. Should their recommendations not be fully implemented when I would assume office, a Norwood administration will meet with the commission and determine the best path forward.

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?
My restoring dignity initiative: On any given night in Atlanta, there are approximately 4,317 homeless men, women ,and children within the city limits of Atlanta. There are approximately 3,906 emergency beds. The math on providing shelter for homeless individuals speaks for itself—Atlanta is failing its homeless residents. With the proposed closing of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless (the Peachtree-Pine facility), approximately 600 homeless people will be without emergency shelter each night. The future of being homeless in Atlanta is bleak. It is complicated by the City of Atlanta having failed to develop a concrete plan for replacing the 600 lost beds and addressing homelessness, even though bond money has been made available.

Homelessness in Atlanta is often due to three factors:

  • Physical and mental disabilities
  • Addictive disorders
  • Temporary homelessness

I am the only mayoral candidate to raise over $600,000 to provide assistance to the homeless community. The restoring dignity initiative goes beyond current city policy and adds a work component based upon the Albuquerque model and Georgia Works initiatives. A Norwood administration will bring together the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, the United Way, nonprofit homeless service providers, and social services to design and implement an extensive, multi-pronged program that will:

  • Identify the most needy and vulnerable and refer to appropriate social services
  • Provide emergency shelter and transitional housing
  • Increase funding for homeless programs over the current $26 million bond commitment through a public-private partnership with the key stake holders
  • Engage nonprofits to connect individuals with services
  • Give dignity through work by partnering with the Public Works Department and Watershed Management to clean up the city
  • End panhandling by funding and providing jobs for individuals who are able to work
  • Educate the community to understand the restoring dignity imitative

The goals of the restoring dignity initiative are to end homeless by providing jobs, housing, social services, and honoring the dignity of all individuals by assisting them to become self-sufficient.

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?
The city has adopted a plan for spending these transit funds. As mayor I believe the money should be spent as currently prioritized but subject to adjustments after a comprehensive review. Such a review would include the following projects.


  • Campbellton Road and Clifton Road light rail projects
  • Greenbriar and Moores Mill Transit Centers
  • Service frequency improvements
  • System-wide bus route improvements
  • I-20 West hard rail expansion
  • Rail station enhancements

 Other transportation priorities:

  • Increase bus network to better accommodate those who work in the city but reside outside Atlanta
  • Provide alternative truck routes specifically to reduce traffic caused by commercial vehicles
  • Improve traffic light and highway meter synchronization by upgrading outdated and obsolete technology
  • Increase the number of bike lanes and enhance bike lane safety to allow for more usage and improve traffic flow
  • Improve walkability and pedestrian safety though installation of additional sidewalks and crosswalks

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?
I support the city staff examination and assessment of the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) and zoning ordinance. I understand the city needs to plan in order to balance competing, and sometimes, conflicting interests. From my years of experience on the Atlanta City Council and as city council zoning committee chair, I’ve has seen first-hand how often proponents of development are seemingly at odds with neighborhood representatives and others whose concerns are protecting the environment and maintaining a high quality of life. The reality is that all points of view must be taken into consideration. The general public must be regarded as an interested party as well.

A top priority therefore will be to provide a new public access website that will include the new zoning code once it is approved, permit and zoning application forms, submitted permit applications, issued permits, and all other relevant document for easy public access.

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?
Should another recession occur during my term in office, I will take all necessary steps, in consultation with city council and based upon the recommendations of relevant city departments, to develop a responsible fiscal strategy to maintain the delivery of all essential city services and prevent the city from assuming substantial long-term debt obligations.

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?
In Atlanta, the mayor does not have purview over education and schools in our city. However, I believe mayors have both a moral responsibility and obligation to improve educational prospects for our children in the Atlanta Public Schools system. Using city resources to support our schools to increase student achievement in support of academic success is a legitimate expenditure.

Assisting teachers: We need a housing policy that assists teachers in obtaining affordable housing within their school cluster—this allows teachers to be invested members of the community.

Encourage pre-K: Early literacy skills become evident in pre-K and can be improved upon. The APS pre-K program needs to be expanded in a way so that our children are screened for possible health barriers that block learning and suspected physical or mental disabilities can be identified and addressed. The program needs to emphasize:

  • Encouraging enthusiasm, curiosity, and persistence toward learning
  • Programs that build strong self-image, self-esteem and interactions and social skills with others, and improve social and interpersonal skills
  • Encouraging effective communication with others
  • Early literacy skills

The role of libraries: The role of libraries in our communities is changing, and we need to encourage early-learning literacy and writing and research skills in middle and high school. City and county governments can work cooperatively to:

  • Move the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club under the library umbrella so that book club readings are held in all communities—an investment in child literacy
  • Give away age-appropriate children’s books for young people between the age of 0 and 8
  • Hold “How to read for research” for high school students at libraries
  • Hold writing workshops for middle and high students

Community hubs: The City of Atlanta should partner with APS and Fulton County to convert the city recreational centers into service center where after school activities are conducted. The city should explore providing tutoring services, health screening services, and any after-school service that APS deems appropriate for the related school cluster.

Educational innovation: As mayor I will support the ongoing initiative on the part of the Atlanta Board of Education and the superintendent to bring quality education to our children in every neighborhood. City government is limited in what it can do directly to improve public education but we can see to it that our kids are safe in their neighborhoods and on their way to school and back home after school. We can enhance what is provided in city recreation centers after school. And we must use the mayor’s bully pulpit to express our support for the progress being made by the APS.

One school at a time approach: Numerous papers have been written on how to close the achievement gap in both education and employment and are not appropriate for this questionnaire. However, where practical, I would support APS’s efforts to turn around low-performing schools by conversion to charter schools and to work cooperatively on providing any city resources to assist with this program.

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?
First we must perform a needs assessment to develop a prioritized strategy for arts funding. We need to assess the city’s expenditures and those of Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The question that has to be asked is whether a partnership and/or merger of programs is needed to support and sustain a vibrant arts community. This assessment would not only tell us the appropriate levels of funding, but what funding policy would best guarantee a reliable, long-term funding source for the arts.

9. Simple question: How many police officers does Atlanta have, how many does it need, and how will you pay for them?
The Atlanta Police Department currently has approximately 1,700 officers, per my last briefing. Overall the APD needs to complete a needs assessment study to determine appropriate staffing levels. The number asserted by the two past administrations has been 2,000. I would like a full force of about 2,300 to 2,500 officers as part of an aggressive retention program. I expect that a full audit of the city budget and expenditures and a reform of city vendor contract practices will yield ample savings to provide competitive compensation and retention.

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.]
The city council, with my vote, unanimously approved the decriminalization of marijuana to the equivalent of a traffic fine. City council should review the city code to determine if any other existing ordinances require similar additional review.

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?
There are numerous examples of “best practices” where revitalization occurred without displacement of the working poor. One example is the Financial District in Lower Manhattan where the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development played an extensive role in ensuring revitalization occurred without displacing the original occupiers of the area. It required vision and leadership from the Office of the Mayor and the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Neighborhoods often become at risk due to a city’s policies. For example, in Atlanta, the city’s policy of acquiring and developing green space can have unintended consequences on working-class neighborhoods where appropriate affordable housing goals are not met or developers are not held accountable. We see these unintended consequences as witnessed in the city’s Old Fourth Ward and near the BeltLine where goals for affordable housing units are woefully inadequate. Our green space procurement policy initiated developer investment and interest in all areas associated with the development of the BeltLine.

As mayor I would like to prevent or mitigate displacement. There is no one “best practice” on addressing the issue of gentrification. However, we, as a city, can institute a set of policies designed to prevent gentrification. These points are not original thoughts, but are data-driven public policy that has work in New York, Chicago and Boston. There are nine points the city could implement as previously mentioned. They are:

  • 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 and/or build middle-income housing
  • Use city-owned property to create low-income (30% AMI) housing
  • Use judicial in-rem to recycle abandoned and/or blighted properties for affordable housing
  • Establish an employer-assisted workforce housing program
  • Set attainable goals on the units of workforce housing built annually