Legislation proposed during Monday’s Atlanta City Council meeting endeavors to launch a trust fund dedicated to building and preserving affordable housing.
Authored by Councilman Matt Westmoreland and backed by eight other city leaders — including mayoral candidates Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens — the ordinance aims to establish the “Building the Beloved Community Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” which would use 2 percent of the city’s general fund annually.
“More than a half-century ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King first preached of building the ‘Beloved Communuty,’ a vision for a world free not only of poverty hunger and homelessness, but racism, discrimination, bigotry and prejudice,” the legislation reads.
Today, though, the City of Atlanta suffers from the highest income inequality and lowest economic mobility rates in the country. Supporters of this proposal say it would help offset such disparities.
To put this all in perspective, if this measure were effective today, it would pull some $14 million of the city’s roughly $710 million budget for housing affordability initiatives, such as erecting new units and renovating existing ones.
This ordinance was crafted, though, with a “phased-in approach” in mind so the fund doesn’t take too big a bite out of the city’s budget right away, Wesmoreland said in an interview with Atlanta Civic Circle.
If the proposal is ratified in coming weeks or months, he explained, 1 percent of the city’s general fund would be allocated to the trust during the next fiscal year, then 1.5 percent the year after and, finally, a whole 2 percent of the Fiscal Year 2025 budget would be used to fuel affordable housing development.
That all hinges, of course, on the city remaining in good financial shape, he added. An economic crisis, for instance, could hobble the trust fund.
But if this program claims a sizable chunk of the city’s purse, do other public operations get shortchanged?
“Historically, the city’s revenues grow as the city does, so it’s not meant to cut from somewhere else,” Westmoreland said. “I believe that housing affordability should be a priority each and every budget cycle.”
The idea of an affordable housing trust fund isn’t new, as Councilman Brown pointed out to Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview. It’s been discussed for years, recommended by advocacy group HouseATL in 2018 and incorporated into Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan in 2019.
But Brown said he thinks the upcoming city elections have sparked a sense of urgency for folks looking to hold their seats or seeking higher ones.
“It’s great that [the trust fund] is happening, but it’s unfortunate that we have these candidates that have been in positions of power to effect change, and we’ve been talking about the great things we want to do [on the campaign trail],” he said. “But what barriers have been in place before that have stopped us from doing the things we’re talking about doing?”
Westmoreland’s proposal harks back to a mayoral candidate forum in July, during which three of the top five candidates — Brown, Dickens and attorney Sharon Gay — promised they’d commit to expanding the city’s budget by tens of millions of dollars to support affordable housing initiatives.
Former Mayor Kasim Reed and City Council President Felicia Moore, however, said the city needs to instead take a hard look at its finances and better use the resources already at its disposal — including hundreds of acres of development-ready public land.
Westmoreland also said the housing trust fund could also work in tandem with the $100 million affordable housing bond program city officials passed in January.
“The thing about bonds is they’re a great immediate infusion, but once you spend it it’s gone, and you gotta pay debt for a long time,” he said. “A recurring funding stream is a great complement for a bond program.”
As Westmoreland’s legislation says, “As rent and home prices skyrocket — often in response to infrastructure the city itself has built, from the Atlanta Beltline to the new Westside Park — our local government has an obligation to do more to support our legacy residents who have been most impacted by the tremendous change and rapid growth Atlanta has experienced.”