Concerns remain, even as City Council backs ABI’s new affordable housing efforts

New apartments and townhomes along the Eastern Beltline trail are being questioned due to unaffordable housing pricing. Photo by Hannah Greco | The Signal

The Atlanta BeltLine redevelopment project is whipping up new controversy as city residents and Beltline team members again quarrel once over the notion of affordable housing.

Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI) brought David A. Jackson aboard as the new Deputy Executive Director of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (ABP), in part to help move along the affordable housing guidelines.
“As the new deputy executive director for the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, I am excited to join the team whose mission is to Enable the Atlanta BeltLine project and to Engage and Empower the people who live, work and play around it,” said Jackson.

Jackson has proposed a new plan to be implemented later in 2017, which would allow millions of dollars of funding from ABI’s annual budget to be set aside for affordable housing.

“New funding raised from the latest BeltLine bond series and the annual ABI budget will dedicate over $18 million for affordable housing over the next three years,” Jackson said.

The Atlanta City Council has been backing up the initiative as they search for sufficient ways to “help fund, build, retain and preserve affordable housing units,” according to Jackson.

“Recent legislation by Atlanta City Council members are exploring similar policies such as requiring a percentage of affordable workforce housing units in residential developments that receive funding from City of Atlanta development authorities,” Jackson said.

Policies from the Council this year are focused on “establishing a housing trust fund to provide a consistent and predictable source of financing for affordable housing development deals” as well as “creating a mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require a set aside for affordable workforce housing in all new multifamily housing developments,” and “studying the creation of ‘Displacement Free Zones’ to prevent the displacement of low-income property and business owners due to the impact of gentrification,” according to Jackson.

In 2005, the ABI created the Enable Atlanta BeltLine Project, which planned to create 5,600 affordable workforce housing within a 25 year redevelopment program. According to ABI, 2,000 affordable workforce units have been created since then, with 250 more units in the works as of fall 2016.

But despite the BeltLine’s promises, in September 2016 Ryan Gravel and Nathaniel Smith, members on the ABP board of directors, resigned from the team, because of a lack in progress on the affordable housing front.

Gravel and Smith said in their letter of resignation that they felt as though the original goal for the Beltline was not fulfilling the vision that was once imagined by a collective effort of the communities surrounding the Beltline. Instead, they felt that the redevelopment targeted people with more economic means.

“We know you agree that its advantages must accrue to everyone, especially those who are otherwise most vulnerable to the changes it brings,” Gravel said. “We fear, however, that without more urgent and deliberate attention to these communities, we’ll end up building the Atlanta Beltline without achieving its vision.”

Jackson attributed the rise in housing prices to the increase in demand for housing along the BeltLine, because of the new developments that are taking place.

“Not surprisingly, people desire to live in places that offer these high-quality amenities, leading to increased demand for housing in neighborhoods near the Atlanta BeltLine,” Jackson said. “Highly sought after neighborhoods providing quality amenities usually experience upward price pressures, and Atlanta BeltLine neighborhoods are no exception.”

The Housing Justice League supported Gravel and Smith in their resignation as they too said they believe that the affordable housing effort has not been delegated

“It is clear; the city of Atlanta has made little effort to hold the BeltLine developers accountable. The developers have built exclusively luxury housing, creating a period of unbridled wealth extraction from communities that have only recently begun strong economic development,” the League said in their letter of support. “The BeltLine’s unfolding makes us wonder, ‘What type of city we will be left with, if the Beltline continues to develop without accountability to communities it profits from?”

BeltLine resident and creator of the Facebook group Humans of the Atlanta BeltLine Jessie Fream voiced her discontent for the rising prices on housing and said that it separates the community.

“I thinks it’s disheartening that pricing has blown up everywhere. It doesn’t connect and unify Atlanta as well as it could. [There] are people of all ages. As a 20 or 30-year old you can’t afford to be out there,” Fream said. “One of the reasons why people like Atlanta is because it’s affordable compared to other cities. Affordable house along the beltline is needed and it’s a way to unify the BeltLine.”