City Leaders, Private Sector Need to Safeguard Affordability for Legacy Residents

by Jeff Shaw

— By Dennis Richards Jr., Atlanta BeltLine Inc. —

Rapid development of Class A apartments across major U.S. cities has left many community leaders struggling to create affordable housing for its citizens. Atlanta is no exception.

City leaders recognize the demand for new housing supply, but they know that once new developments are delivered to areas in and around formerly underserved and underinvested neighborhoods, long-time residents are at greater risk of displacement due to rising rents or rising tax assessments.

As we look to the future, it’s imperative that development projects advance equitably. Here in Atlanta, Mayor Andre Dickens pledged about $59 million from the city and in May assembled the Affordable Housing Strike Force, a task force comprised of leaders from government and nonprofit sectors.

The group’s goal is to build and preserve 20,000 affordable housing units while also preventing the displacement of city residents. According to the city of Atlanta, 1,739 affordable units have been built and 3,940 are under construction since the mayor issued this mandate.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) partnered with Prestwick Development Co. on 55 Milton, a 156-unit property that opened in May 2022. The community contains 156 homes for residents earning 50 to 80 percent of area median income (AMI) as well as 18 units reserved for people experiencing homelessness. (Photo credit: Erin Sintos, reprinted with permission from Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

Executing the Vision

The Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI) is the agency responsible for developing the Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile, multiuse trail that runs through the core of the city. This project includes programming that supports affordable housing production, small business programs, and green space revitalization. ABI is primarily focused on affordable housing production and preservation within the BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD), which includes neighborhoods located within half a mile of the BeltLine trail.

Our affordable housing mandate is to ensure the preservation or creation of 5,600 units of affordable housing by 2030. To date, we’re 56 percent of the way toward accomplishing this goal.

Approximately 3,148 affordable housing units have been constructed or preserved between 2006 and December 2022 within the BeltLine TAD. An additional 1,771 affordable housing units have been created or preserved within the BeltLine Planning Area, which is the area that extends a half-mile outside of the TAD. These units were made possible by partners such as Invest Atlanta, Atlanta Housing, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the city of Atlanta, the Development Authority of Fulton County and others.

The city of Atlanta’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, typically referred to as the IZ program, is one way we’re protecting our long-time residents. The IZ program took effect in 2018. It requires any developer seeking to build apartments within the BeltLine Overlay District to set aside 10 to 15 percent of units for affordable housing at 60 to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI).

The BeltLine Overlay District spans the length of the planned BeltLine trail and extends a half-mile in each direction from the path. This important ordinance, championed by Mayor Dickens, who was a city councilmember at the time, has created 679 affordable housing units in the BeltLine Overlay since its inception. The inclusionary zoning ordinance is helping to ensure that development does not leave our community behind.

Prestwick Co. developed Parkside, located on the Atlanta BeltLine. The 182-unit community delivered in February 2022. Units are reserved for tenants earning at or below 50, 60 and 70 percent of AMI.

Fruitful Land Acquisition Strategy

The BeltLine has for years worked steadily on strategic land acquisitions in concert with Invest Atlanta, which is the city’s official economic development authority, as well as city and state government in an effort to create powerful opportunities for equitable development.

We understand that by owning the land, we can secure the public and community benefits that our residents deserve. So far, we have invested approximately $38 million in real estate that will be redeveloped to include affordable housing with significant input from the community.

An example is the recent land acquisition of 31 acres on Chappell Road near the Westside Trail, which is a three-mile portion of the BeltLine. This site is near the planned Microsoft campus at Quarry Yards, the Bankhead MARTA station, Maddox Park and Westside Park. The BeltLine will begin extensive community engagement efforts in 2023 to hear what community stakeholders would like to see developed on the site.

Additionally, The BeltLine, in partnership with Invest Atlanta, has sources of capital, including the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the BeltLine TAD Increment Fund, that can be used to support development projects with a significant housing component. To date, about $22 million has been committed to ensure the development of single-family, multifamily and mixed-use development projects within the BeltLine TAD.

Another example is the 1055 Arden Avenue development located in Atlanta’s Capital View neighborhood and developed by Prestwick Development Co. in partnership with Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc. (ANDP).

This development features 58 units, 28 of which will be priced at or below 50 percent of AMI. Of note, 48 of these units will be preserved as affordable for 65 years. ABI, in partnership with Invest Atlanta, contributed $2 million in funds from the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund toward this affordable housing development.

Some other notable work advanced in 2022 includes:

  • Murphy Crossing. ABI has selected a developer finalist for our 21-acre site located in Oakland City, a neighborhood in Southwest Atlanta. This project will be a mixed-use development, with 30 percent of the residential units affordable between 60 to 80 percent AMI. Additionally, 30 percent of all the retail and light industrial square footage will be leased at a 20 percent discount to market. Some small businesses will receive one-time grants of $25,000.
  • Garson Drive. ABI is also seeking development proposals for the redevelopment of a 2.68-acre site at 579 Garson Drive near the Lindbergh MARTA station in South Buckhead. This site will be situated directly on a BeltLine connector trail, connecting the site to an expansive regional trail network that includes the mainline BeltLine Trail, Path400 and the Peachtree Creek Greenway. This site sits right on the bank of Peachtree Creek, providing water views, which are a rarity in the city.

In 2023, we’ll be looking to acquire more real estate to ensure equitable multifamily and mixed-use development projects will be located in BeltLine neighborhoods. It is an exciting time for the BeltLine. Not only do we have a clear line of sight to complete the mainline trail by 2030, but we also have the capital needed to accomplish our affordable housing goals so that the BeltLine can be a place for anyone to live, work and thrive.

Dennis Richards Jr. is vice president of housing policy and development for Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

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