Commentary: Atlanta is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Here’s how we change that.

Atlanta councilman on the need for a stronger affordable housing policy: ’History shows that affordable communities today may not be affordable tomorrow.’
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Midtown skyline

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Atlanta’s shortage of affordable housing is one of the most pressing issues affecting the city today. In a submitted op-ed, Atlanta Councilman Andre Dickens discusses why it’s important to create and preserve workforce housing—and what can be done to make sure the city remains affordable for all.

This is an amazing time to be an Atlantan. We have the world’s busiest airport, great companies and universities. We have world class amenities. People feel confident enough to take the risk and start new businesses. There are so many reasons I love this city.

But Atlanta’s greatness is best embodied in our people and we are at our best when we work together as one city. Atlanta must be a city of choice, equity and opportunity. If you choose to call Atlanta home, then you deserve access to great schools, safe neighborhoods, good transportation options, and housing options.

Housing options—real, meaningful options for our diverse workforce—are critical to our success as a global city. Housing is really about people. Implementing a comprehensive housing strategy is one of the most important steps in improving the quality of life for everyone. The statistical evidence is clear and the need is significant. According to the Housing Strategy for the City of Atlanta, in 2012 40% of renters and 53% of homeowners were “cost burdened” meaning they spent more than 30% of their income on housing.

Atlanta’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy released last year was a step in the right direction. Key strategies include reducing the number of Atlanta residents who are cost burdened; creating a broad mix of housing choices throughout Atlanta for a diverse workforce and reducing the number of vacant, blighted homes by 20 percent by 2020.

As Chair of the Atlanta City Council Community Development Human Resources Committee and Board Member for both Invest Atlanta and the Atlanta BeltLine for the last two years, I have been collaborating with others on affordable housing options for Atlantans, including looking at what national best practices (Montgomery County Maryland, Seattle, Austin, Boston, and others) we can implement here.

Last year, I sponsored an ordinance written by Matthew Cardinale that passed unanimously which requires any future legislation affecting housing, land use, or development to now estimate and describe the impact the legislation would have on the affordable housing stock in Atlanta for 30 years. I also submitted an amendment to the sale of property on the Beltline’s Eastside Trail that now requires all of the proceeds be used for affordable housing. The BeltLine successfully used that money to launch a partnership with the Federal Home Loan Bank for a pilot downpayment and owner-occupied rehabilitation assistance program on the Westside Trail. This partnership is a win-win for our community, both keeping current residents in their homes while encouraging new residents to move in enabling development without displacement.

Georgia Tech Professor Dan Immergluck recently quoted Haddow and Company’s report that states as of March of 2015, there were over 11,000 apartment units under construction with another 9,000 proposed. From 2012 to 2014, according to the CoStar Group, 95 percent of rental units built in Atlanta were luxury units. These luxury units are out of the price range for much of our workforce. Furthermore, areas of Atlanta with the most jobs have the least affordable housing. This is why I am advocating for a citywide mandatory inclusionary housing policy that requires new residential developments to dedicate affordable units for our workforce—I want our teachers, police, nurses and office admins to have the choice to live in the communities they serve.

Additionally, much of the city’s current affordable housing stock is located in areas seeking amenities including grocery stores, high-performing schools, transit and job centers. Inclusionary Housing could encourage investment in all neighborhoods. Disinvested areas that desire development begin to look more appealing to both residents and developers providing the balanced growth that makes our city even greater. Once the next round of neighborhoods get hot, we will already have a policy in place that will keep at least a portion of each development for our workforce. History shows that affordable communities today may not be affordable tomorrow unless action like this is taken.

My office, along with Mayor Kasim Reed and his administration, the Planning Department, Invest Atlanta, and consultants have met monthly for the past 12 months to carefully draft a skeleton of a mandatory inclusionary housing policy based on best practices from across the nation including the impacts to and incentives for developers. Before a policy is finalized, we are earnestly committed to including other interested stakeholders. We will be inclusive—bringing all interested parties to the table to come up with the best policy for our people recognizing this will take time and patience. Atlanta is at our best when we work together.

Great leaders from this city have showed us the way—defining us not by our differences, but building on our strengths of diversity and respect. Let us honor these traditions by doing our generation’s part to build the greatest Atlanta it can be—one city that works for all of us. Our city deserves a housing policy based on choice, equity and opportunity that is worthy of its people.

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