Three of the five top contenders for Atlanta mayor declared during a candidate forum Wednesday that they’d commit to expanding the city’s budget by tens of millions of dollars to further affordable housing initiatives. Former Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore made no such promise. 

“The city can’t afford to expand the budget by tens of millions of dollars,” Reed told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview after the forum. “You already have the land to facilitate the private sector,” he added, referring to the hundreds of acres of municipal property the city’s planning department recently identified as ripe for affordable housing development. 

Essentially, Atlanta needs to use what it’s got before committing new city dollars to fight the housing affordability crisis, Reed said.

Moore, in an interview after the event, also said Atlanta needs to make better use of its existing resources before expanding the city’s budget — which would require a tax increase. Additionally, she said, “The only reason I said no… was because we really need to go in and look at our city finances. I’m not quite sure what financial position the city is in, and I didn’t want to be in a position of saying, ‘It’s going to be $10 million’ [new dollars] when it may have to be $5, or maybe more.”

Forum moderator Lisa Rayam, a WABE journalist, also asked the slate of candidates — including Atlanta City Councilmembers Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown and attorney Sharon Gay — how they’d utilize those nearly 900 acres of development-ready city land to produce new affordable housing units. 

Dickens said Atlanta’s next generation of leaders needs to prioritize households earning 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) or less, noting rises in housing costs have far outpaced wage increases over the years. “Working folks can’t live in Atlanta,” he said.

“Mixed-income communities should be everywhere,” Dickens continued. “It’s not just one geographic location; we should have affordable housing everywhere. We don’t want to be the next San Francisco.”

Touting her experience with housing affordability initiatives — “both on the policy side and actually producing it” — Gay said she would connect with communities individually to assess the wants and needs for new units. 

“It is important to work with the neighborhoods,” she said, “to come up with a collective vision that is not just what I might want or a developer might want, but what actually works in the neighborhood, with the transit infrastructure they have, the jobs infrastructure they have, the streets and roads they have.” 

Said Moore: “There should not be an area without affordable housing in the city.” The city-owned land is spread out across town, and affordable units are needed everywhere, she said.

Moore also said it’s important not to see affordable housing and homelessness as two separate issues. “We need to make sure that, when we’re looking at housing affordability, we’re looking at the entire spectrum — that we’re building for our unsheltered population, with all of the different needs that they may have — as well as those up to and including workforce housing, so that our police officers, our firefighters and our city workers can actually afford to live in the city they work for.”

Brown, who helped architect the legislation that called on planning department officials to identify the vacant city property, said he would “create an auction in the City of Atlanta to take the vacant land that we own and create opportunities for folks and allow them to build generational wealth in this city.” In short, he’d give the little guys a shot to win contracts over the bigshot developers.

Reed, who fielded criticism from other candidates for running the city at a time when its housing authority, Atlanta Housing (AH), was at its most dysfunctional, said he’d “identify parcels that are nearest to job centers and transportation.”

“The way that I would structure the transaction would be to provide the dirt to our leading real estate developers, who would go through a competitive process,” Reed said.

As for AH — which only recently broke ground on its first housing project in more than a decade — Reed said after the forum, “I don’t think [the other candidates] know what they’re talking about,” adding that they don’t understand what it’s like to govern when the city is “on the cusp of going into a great depression.”

Reed, who took office in 2010, on the heels of the Great Recession, said, “The property tax digest dropped $15, $10 and $5 billion, and we had a crime surge, so our priorities had to be on navigating a global fiscal crisis… We have delivered new affordable housing; we have delivered new units; we have expanded the number of people we have in affordable housing.”

The mayoral election is less than four months away, and Atlanta Civic Circle will continue to track the housing affordability ambitions and promises of all the major candidates. Check out the interviews we’ve conducted with Brown, Dickens, Gay and Moore, and stay tuned for an upcoming conversation with Reed.

Let us know what you think of the candidates’ proposals for housing affordability in the comments.

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