Why Affordable Housing Is Important to Atlanta Development

While Atlanta seems certain to continue its rapid growth, with the region forecasted to add 2.5 million people by 2040, a pivotal question faces developers, builders and the community as a whole: How will we accommodate these new residents?

Affordable housing is an issue of great importance to all Atlantans. Atlanta’s affordability and the availability of housing for our growing workforce are key considerations for attracting new businesses, investment and jobs to the city. Locating new housing near existing and planned transportation infrastructure will help ensure that we grow in a sustainable manner and limit increased traffic and degradation of air quality. Investment in affordable housing with access to opportunities, such as jobs, education and health care, also will help address Atlanta’s income inequality and economic mobility, which rank among the worst in the nation.

Community land trust model

The Atlanta Land Trust (ALT) was created in 2009 to maintain affordability in neighborhoods at risk of gentrification and displacement due to development along the Atlanta BeltLine and throughout the city of Atlanta. ALT seeks to deliver and steward permanently affordable housing proximate to the Atlanta BeltLine and other targeted areas in the city of Atlanta. ALT is a community land trust (CLT), which works to create homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families. The CLT model allows homeowners to build equity while preserving the affordability of these homes. Low-income families purchase and own only the house then lease the underlying land from ALT. The ground lease contains resale restrictions that require that the home be sold to another low-income family for an affordable price determined by a resale formula, which balances wealth creation against the goal of long-term affordability.

ALT envisions working to improve economic mobility for low- and moderate-income Atlantans by building intergenerational wealth. For the vast majority of homeowners, especially lower-income households and people of color, their home is their main source of wealth. Homeownership is a powerful wealth-building mechanism: the median net worth of homeowners was $231,000 in 2016 compared to $5,000 for renters. For low-income households, programs that provide access to homeownership have the potential to bring them out of poverty and accumulate assets.

Unfortunately, today, homeownership is currently out of reach for many Atlantans. Between 2000 and 2017 black homeownership rates declined 5.5% representing a decrease of 3,000 black homeowners. Furthermore, from 2010 to 2016 there was a 15% decline in homeownership for households earning less than $100,000. ALT is working to ensure that all Atlantans have affordable and stable housing options in communities of opportunity and have the ability to build wealth through homeownership. ALT seeks to ensure that legacy residents benefit from the investments they are making in public infrastructure by allowing them to stay in their neighborhoods as property values increase.

Effect on developers

Communities increasingly are putting pressure on developers to include affordable units in their new projects. Inclusionary zoning requires developers in specific areas to include affordable housing within projects or pay into a fund for affordable housing to be constructed elsewhere.

Also, requirements to include affordable housing for real estate developers seeking any sort of public subsidy or incentive in their developments are becoming more common.

The One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan has established affordable housing as a priority for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and has been driving many of these changes. Organizations such as ALT are positioned to partner with developers and property owners to implement solutions.

Innovation and partnerships

The biggest challenge these efforts face, by far, is funding. Land costs continue to increase. Construction costs continue to increase. ALT is working to overcome these hurdles by partnering with innovative developers who can approach the problem from a different angle. Creative approaches to design and construction include building smaller, more efficient units, such as accessory dwelling units, and exploring co-living concepts where people have some private space but share some common space as well.

One example is a project in the Oakland City neighborhood where ALT has partnered with a developer that is using modular construction. The units will be built in a factory, transported to the site and put in place by a crane. Efficiencies create cost savings by reducing waste, avoiding weather delays and allowing work to be done simultaneously.

Amanda Rhein 2019There now appears to be consensus about both the problem and potential solutions, and a sense of urgency around implementation. ALT is a willing partner and can collaborate with developers, nonprofits and other organizations to help them to manage the process and work to build permanently affordable housing.

There’s no easy solution, but a thoughtful approach to affordable housing by developers, residents and community leaders can help achieve the important goals of permanent affordable housing and a better quality of life for all.

Amanda Rhein is executive director of the Atlanta Land Trust, leading its mission to securing permanent affordable housing for everyone who wants to live in our city. She can be reached at arhein@atllandtrust.org.

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