On Wednesday, City of Atlanta leaders and developers celebrated the groundbreaking of Haven at South Atlanta, an 84-unit rental community that promises what officials call “deep affordability.”

Seventy-one of those “garden-style apartments” — expected to be available in one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans — will be affordable for families earning between 50 and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI)

That’s a big win for a city that’s for years grappled with a housing affordability crisis and rampant income inequality — and one that considers homes priced for households earning up to 120 percent of the AMI “affordable.”

Haven at South Atlanta wouldn’t have been possible without years of legwork, a roster of organizations from the private and nonprofit sectors and, of course, government subsidies. 

Spearheaded by developer Pennrose and nonprofit Focused Community Strategies, the project came together with help from $1.2 million in Housing Opportunity Bond funding approved by Invest Atlanta, as well as a coveted 9-percent Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) granted by the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA). 

DCA Commissioner Christopher Nunn told Atlanta Civic Circle the development proposal earned the highly competitive LIHTC in part because of its proximity to Luther J. Price Middle School, the area’s walkability and access to transportation and the promise of true affordability. 

But while officials, including Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Invest Atlanta CEO Eloisa Klementich, celebrate the boost to Atlanta’s affordable housing stock, activists in other parts of town are lamenting how difficult it is to see something like Haven at South Atlanta realized. 

Just a few hours before the groundbreaking, a group of Boulevard Heights neighbors sat down with Atlanta Civic Circle to discuss the seemingly departing potential for “deep affordability” at a residential project proposed for the neighborhood. 

Developer TPA Group, which plans a few hundred apartments about two blocks from the Beltline’s Southside Trail, seems dead-set on setting aside 15 percent of its units to be priced at 80 percent of the AMI, according to Scott Jones, a Boulevard Heights resident and member of the local neighborhood planning unit (NPU). 

That’s one of two affordable housing requirement options allowed within the Beltline Overlay District, per the city’s inclusionary zoning policies. Jones and like-minded housing affordability advocates would prefer the developer instead choose the other option — to earmark 10 percent of the units to be priced for households earning 60 percent of the AMI — which would be “deeper affordability,” he said.

In the eyes of the city, TPA Group’s project will produce “affordable” units. But, as any intown housing or urban planning expert will tell you, Atlanta is most in need of units priced for families earning 50 percent of the AMI or less. 

Unfortunately, according to a report the city published early this year detailing the first few years of its inclusionary zoning policies, “Most affordable units are designated for households with incomes at 70 to 80 percent of the area median income.” 

Why is that? Andy Schneggenburger, an Atlanta Land Trust board member and member of the city’s Housing Commission, said it has to do with “preconceived notions” about what — or, rather, who — affordable housing means for a community.

Schneggenburger, who joined Jones and others Wednesday to discuss possibilities for ways to foster true affordability in Boulevard Heights and other neighborhoods, is referring to the stigma associated with terms like “affordable housing” or “public housing” — misconceptions that such residential offerings bring crime or drag down nearby property values. 

Like Haven at South Atlanta, the Boulevard Heights site at which TPA Group plans to develop a new multifamily complex is located in Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith’s District 1. 

Smith, who attended Wednesday’s groundbreaking, told Atlanta Civic Circle that the relative anomaly of Haven at South Atlanta in part because “a whole bunch of do-gooders got together.” 

“We had the state there, Invest Atlanta, the [Metro Atlanta] Land Bank,” she said. “We had all kinds of people who were helping to fund it. And Pennrose, they do this kind of stuff. They do affordable.”

Plus, she said, in 2018, South Atlanta residents banded together to map out a master plan for the community’s future. After that, Smith made sure the plot that now hosts construction was zoned appropriately. “If you zone it, they will come,” she said. 

So how do you replicate this win? “We just keep working with good people,” Smith said.

Jones and Schneggenburger don’t want to wait around hoping good people keep coming to the table. They’re still brainstorming ways to get their NPU to adopt policies encouraging more “deep affordability.” 

They might approach Smith with a pitch for similar city legislation soon, too.

(Header image, via Sean Keenan: Officials at the groundbreaking ceremony for Haven at South Atlanta)