ULI Atlanta Blog

What Tools Are Needed To Advance An Affordable Housing Agenda?

by Sharon Gay

In her inauguration speech as the 60th Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms identified a $1 billion-dollar housing affordability plan, the largest affordable housing investment in Atlanta’s history.

But what does this investment buy and how much affordable housing will it build? What are the priorities and how will they be set? These are all important questions and ones that we collaboratively will need to support and work through. It is an audacious goal and one worthy of us all taking to heart in pursuit of sustainable solutions to our regional housing challenges.

The City of Atlanta has made some really positive steps by implementing both financial and regulatory tools to address affordable housing. These include the $40 million-dollar Housing Opportunity Bond, affordability requirements in many of our Tax Allocation Districts (TADs), and the Atlanta City Council recently passing an inclusionary zoning policy for the BeltLine and Westside, which will require new rental developments to set aside 10% of total units at 60% of area median income (roughly $40,000/per year) or 15% of units at 80% of area median income.

This is one of the reasons Atlanta is often lifted up as a city leading on affordable housing and equity.  We have a lot of the right tools and ideas but they simply fall far short when compared to the scale of the problem and urgency in implementation. When I talk to my colleagues across North America – the one piece of advice I consistently get is there is no silver bullet. Other cities who have made serious commitments and followed through with actionable affordable housing solutions have found the effort to be a lot of 2%, small- scale, incremental solutions that take years to have impact. It is a long game and you need the leadership in place to see it through.

While Atlanta is touted as a national leader in affordable housing relative to peer cities, we know the policies and commitments we have in place are not enough. We need more tools in the tool box and to have the tools in place at scale. This is largely why ULI Atlanta’s Livable Communities Council has formed a working group of developers, real estate professionals, and practitioners to understand the scope and scale of the problem, engage in important conversations, and actively seek out solutions that will ultimately provide housing across the socioeconomic spectrum for the Atlanta region.

Based on ULI Atlanta’s research, here are three additional tools that are “low hanging fruit” for the new Mayor:

  1. Use our public real estate assets. We have enormous wealth in our publicly-owned assets. Let’s determine how we can best leverage public land, buildings, and infrastructure to include housing affordable to Atlanta residents. This requires a new level of collaboration across multiple public entities (e.g. City-owned property, AHA, Atlanta Public Schools, MARTA, among others).
  2. Find new, dedicated funding sources. Although we have an arsenal of existing programs, many are underfunded compared to the need and in an era of tight Federal budgets, will likely need to come from a different stream, including philanthropy and the private sector. The gap to fill is significant. Initial estimates from ULI Atlanta’s research suggest we need $250-$300 million annually in subsidy to accommodate growth in our five core counties, and this is only to make a dent in the existing problem.
  3. Develop new partnerships. We need new partnerships to build capacity in affordable housing production and community development corporations. These include non-profit and for-profit affordable housing developers to deliver the inventory.

Let’s take an aspirational goal, like our Mayor’s goal of funding a $1 billion-dollar affordable housing plan, and make some elements of it come to life. Make 2018 a year to commit to harness the tools that we have and work together to build better ones. There should be no claim in ownership, just an all-hands-on-deck approach that advances policy solutions to make housing affordability in our city and region a reality.

Sharon Gay is a ULI Atlanta Member and Chair of the Livable Communities Council Housing Group. She  is the Managing Partner of Dentons’ Atlanta office. She concentrates her practice in the areas of land use and zoning, tax allocation district financing and other economic development incentives, transportation, and public-private partnerships.

This article originally appeared in the January 29, 2018 edition of the Saporta Report.

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