Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, a candidate for mayor, said the time is now to reign in the agencies that have been providing public assistance to developers when doing so isn’t necessary.
Asked about the Development Authority of Fulton County [DAFC], for instance, Moore said, “The City of Atlanta, the City Council, we’ve all grabbed them by the collar and told them that we do not agree with a lot of the approvals that they’ve had.”
But, she added, DAFC is “a state-created authority, and so we do not have jurisdiction over them.”
Give the excerpt below a read to get a feel for Moore’s mayoral goals, and listen to the full interview in the embedded link.
Sean Keenan: I’ve started each candidate interview with this question: The next mayor is going to have a lot of issues to cover. We’ve got this “COVID crime wave,” police-citizen relations, pandemic recovery, income inequality, education, everything. So a lot of the urban planning experts I’ve been talking to say that those issues and others can be approached from a housing-first angle. So do you think working for housing affordability is a gateway to fixing some of the city’s other pressing problems?
Felicia Moore: Well, I believe that housing affordability is a part of a larger issue. It’s not the only gateway to it, I believe we have to deal with this comprehensively and approach all issues that could have an impact on our safety in our communities and crime in general. This is a socioeconomic issue, and we need to make sure that Atlanta is a place that every income can enjoy it, and that every income is able to stay in it. So I don’t think it is the [only] gateway. We have got to get our city safe because, whether you are on the lower end of the income spectrum or the higher end, you want to feel safe in your community. So I think housing is important. It is certainly a major issue in the city and top on my list of priorities for the city. But I don’t think it’s necessarily the only answer to solving the crime issue.
Sure. So help me understand how you rank housing affordability. As far as priorities go, I know it’s high on the list, but…
I would say the first thing we’ve got to do — and this is a comprehensive answer in and of itself — all that we can to get our city stabilized and get it safe. So affordable housing would be the next issue on my list. It certainly would be high up there because we are seeing a lot of our legacy residents and others leaving the city or having to be pushed out of the city. And we need to make sure that Atlanta is a diverse income, racial, socioeconomic place for people to live, work and play. And in order to do that, we have got to solve the housing affordability issue. And for me, it’s not so much about affordable housing. It also goes to ‘How much house can I afford?’ And so we’ve got to work in my administration on making sure we get our workforce development agency up and running, so that we can get people job training and job-ready and work with our corporate partners and others to get people to work so that they can earn the living that they need so that they can afford the house.
Obviously, pretty much every neighborhood in Atlanta looks different by the hour, at the pace of development we’re witnessing right now. So let’s talk a little bit about the planning department’s ongoing zoning overhaul. Planning Commissioner Tim Keane says the goal is to densify the city by way of stuff like accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and modular construction and better use of vacant land and, essentially, just being more compact and efficient. But there are always going to be people who don’t want to see their single family communities transformed, and you yourself have voiced some skepticism — or maybe hesitance — with making ADUs more mainstream, so I’m curious if you think Atlanta should be taking a piecemeal approach to try to fit the needs of specific communities, or if we should rather approach it with like a blanket policy. How do you see that reform?
Well, first of all, I have no problems with accessory dwelling units. I’m familiar with them, and I think that they’re fine. The issue that I had related to that is that it’s tied directly to affordability. And I understand the notion of having more density because the demand that we have in our needing property goes down, and, hopefully, that keeps the price down. But there’s no direct correlation [between ADUs and affordability] and just blanketly. And that’s how I read it in the news, because I hadn’t had any of the information. But blanketly changing all this — or taking away all single-family zoning — there’s no correlation. Or no one has given me the correlation between that and affordable housing. Because, if I build an accessory dwelling unit in my backyard, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be affordable, particularly if I’m in a higher price point neighborhood. And it doesn’t mean there may not be a short term rental or something else. So I think we’ve got to make that correlation. Second, because I have come up through the neighborhoods and the neighborhood planning unit (NPU) system. I’m very well keenly aware that people are very protective of the character of their neighborhoods, and I know that many have fought long and hard to make sure that they had a single-family neighborhood. But what I’m saying is, I think that we have an opportunity to do both: keep the character of many of the single-family neighborhoods. And that doesn’t matter what side of town it is; there are going to be people across the city who will have an issue with that. But there are many neighborhoods, particularly maybe some that have been neglected and dilapidated when people come in, that we could look at as an opportunity, when they rebuild it and revitalize a community, that it could have a higher density so that they could make accessory dwelling units in the back of those properties or replat the lots where you have that opportunity. And we also have that opportunity with city-owned property and other things — that we’re going to build dwellings there, we can put density there. We can look at our major corridors, which is where we should be looking to put more density because density comes with other issues. You can’t just fix one piece and not expect it to impact another. We got to have traffic [infrastructure]. We’re trying to save trees. If we’re trying to save trees, is it appropriate to let everybody put accessory dwelling unit in their backyard in their existing neighborhood, when you would have to leave those tree covered to do it? So it’s a balancing act of all of those things.
So let’s talk a little bit about the Fulton County Development Authority. They’re under fire right now for the way they do business. More specifically, how they give what some people would consider handouts to developers. So does the mayor have the authority or the responsibility to kind of grab them by the collar and tell them what’s what?
Well, the City of Atlanta, the City Council, we’ve all grabbed them by the collar and told them that we do not agree with a lot of the approvals that they’ve had. We’ve sent resolutions. We’ve asked our state legislature to intervene to see if they can keep them from operating in our jurisdiction and make sure that if someone is [developing] in Atlanta, that it goes to Invest Atlanta, so we do have some authority. But it is, again, a state-created authority, and so we do not have jurisdiction over them. But, I guarantee you, I’ve talked to board members personally about it. Councilmembers have expressed it personally. And we’ve done it collectively as a city, maybe two or three times, where we have expressed our displeasure with how the Fulton County Development Authority has operated within the city of Atlanta.