A new design competition begins to find public solutions to Atlanta’s affordable housing crisis

Photo by Hannah Greco | The Signal

Atlanta’s department of City Planning is looking to new solutions to solve the city’s affordable housing crisis. On Aug. 30, the department announced Domesticity.

Domesticity will be a design competition open to the public, searching for innovative designs to fund and build new affordable housing units at Santa Fe Villas. Tim Keane, the Department of City Planning Commissioner, described the project as one that will utilize the public’s interest in creating affordable housing.

“[The project] is the city taking responsibility for taking the community’s interest in building low-income housing on a much larger scale in Atlanta. We [The department of City Planning] engage the private sector to evaluate the most creative ways we as a community can find to design and finance low-income housing free of the conventional models that currently exist,” Keane said.

A Look to the Public for Answers

The project hopes to solve some of the issues that Keane has found with development companies.

“The reason we started with the design competition, Domesticity, is because even developers that work in the low-income world, they all have formulas,” Keane said. “The problem is, we can’t just rely on those formulas anymore. What those formulas produce, is the same housing over and over again. So in Atlanta, we tend to have a very few number of housing types.”

The competition has a few rules and will conclude with 15 winners, five of which will have cash prizes totaling in over $150,000. The top prize is $50,000, $30,000 of which will be dedicated to further developing the project. Four other winners will receive a runner-up prize of $20,000 and one of these five winners will receive the “Architectural Innovation Reward” which will add an additional $20,000 to their reward.

Why Now?

Keane explained the competition comes as the city faces severe cuts from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds, while the cost of housing continues to go up in Atlanta. Some of the secondary roadblocks for affordable housing projects are cases of “not-in-my-backyard-ism” which Keane described as community support, regulatory hurdles and design.

“The cost of building housing is going up. So you couple that with the fact that there is less public money available today to support affordable housing, especially low-income housing, that combination of the cost of building housing going up, but the funding for housing going down is an incredibly frustrating environment to be in,” Keane said. “There are secondary issues. I think regulatory hurdles are an issue; community support could be an issue and design.”

Some of the goals in the Domesticity project are directly suited to fix those issues. Keane said he hopes that creative, new and out-of-the-box designs will be found throughout this project and that it will help rally up community support for the inclusion of new affordable housing.

He also hopes that in the future, Atlanta will be able to become an income-diverse city.

“The goal is a great diversity of income within every community in Atlanta. Obviously, we don’t have that today, but it is an outcome we are seeking,” he said.

In a Dire Time for Affordable Housing

According to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, attempts to increase the available affordable housing in Atlanta have led to many broken promises from the City of Atlanta.

The report highlights the lack of sustainable affordable housing in Atlanta, focusing specifically on the promises that the Atlanta BeltLine made, and failed, to deliver on. The Atlanta BeltLine project was originally planning to build over 5,600 affordable houses and apartments by 2030, a plan so important that the Atlanta City Council put it into law. But as of now, the Atlanta BeltLine has only found the funds for 785 affordable housing units, 200 of which are still being built.

Paul Morris, the ex-Atlanta Beltline CEO, was replaced on Aug. 23, immediately after the Atlanta BeltLine Board met to discuss his possible departure. He was quickly replaced by Brian McGowan, the former head of Invest Atlanta, who promises to focus more on Affordable Housing, seeing it as a solution to Atlanta’s biggest issues.

“I see the BeltLine as an opportunity to address issues like economic inequality and economic mobility. Those I believe are Atlanta’s biggest problems. They are problems in almost every major city in America.The difference is that other cities don’t have an opportunity like the BeltLine. It can be a catalyst to address income inequality in the city,” said McGowan to the Saporta Report.

A Variety of Solutions

In addition to the competition, Atlanta continues to look at more traditional methods of affordable housing development. Invest Atlanta, the economic development authority for the City of Atlanta, is planning five projects that would create over 493 units of affordable housing over the next four years.

“For Atlanta to remain a place everyone can call home, we must continue to prioritize affordability and mobility. I am proud that the Invest Atlanta board was able to support the creation of more than 490 units of affordable housing for working families,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in an Invest Atlanta press release. “I believe it is essential for every public agency in Atlanta to prioritize affordability, and I look forward to continuing to work with the development community to ensure more of our residents have access to affordable, high-quality housing.”

GSU Professor Daniel Immergluck was contacted for this story but was unavailable to comment.