Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens recently proposed legislation that aims to encourage developers to include what experts have called “deep affordability” at residential projects in some of the city’s rapidly gentrifying communities.
The proposed ordinance would add another option to the city’s inclusionary zoning (IZ) policies, which today require developers to earmark a portion of residential units they’re building near the Beltline and in parts of Atlanta’s Westside for affordable housing.
Currently, they must reserve 15 percent of the new units for households making 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) or less or 10 percent of the units if they price them for folks earning at or below 60 percent of the AMI. Otherwise, they have to pay an in-lieu fee that allows them to forgo affordable housing creation.
If the legislation is ratified, the new option would let developers set aside an even smaller portion of the units — 5 percent — if they’re priced for renters earning 30 percent of the AMI or less.
“The greatest unmet need for affordable housing in the City of Atlanta is housing affordable at zero to 30 percent of the area median income (AMI),” the legislative language says.
“We wanted to do that with the original inclusionary zoning measures, when the AMI was like $64,000, in 2016,” Dickens, who championed the 2017 ordinance that established inclusionary zoning laws, said in an interview with Atlanta Civic Circle. Today, the metro Atlanta AMI is roughly $86,000.
This type of measure isn’t exactly novel; the same 30-percent AMI option is now afforded to developers building residences near the Westside’s Bellwood Quarry, thanks to a law passed by the Atlanta City Council in March.
The neighborhoods near the quarry, such as Grove Park, Center Hill and Carey Park, today are ripe for development — i.e. gentrification — much like those wrapped around the Beltline and other Westside communities investors have been eyeing and buying in for years.
Tech giant Microsoft, for instance, is in the process of revamping some 90 acres of Westside land as a new company campus, which is expected to include housing and other community uses.
That mammoth project, in part, inspired the recently adopted “Westside Park Affordable Workforce Housing District,” which proved to city officials that a 30-percent AMI set-aside option was palatable — even necessary.
Dickens, who’s now a top contender for Atlanta mayor, told Atlanta Civic Circle in March that, in an ideal world, Atlanta would have citywide inclusionary zoning requirements — including set-aside options that support very-low-income residents. That’s easier said than done, though, because the state legislature isn’t progressive enough, Dickens said.
His 2017 ordinance became a reality, he said, because he could prove to officials at the municipal and state levels that development in the impacted areas would provide a public benefit for all income levels. However, those zoning rules weren’t made effective citywide, Dickens said, because of “a state prohibition on rent control,” among other snags.
“So how I successfully danced around that with the Beltline and Westside IZ is by calculating the amount of public investment that went into the community,” he said. “These public arguments mean that we can get a public benefit from landowners in exchange.”
Dickens’s new proposal is set to go before the city’s neighborhood planning units and zoning review board before it’s considered by the council. It could go to a full-council vote in the coming months.