Forthcoming Atlanta City Council legislation will guarantee that the controversial Gulch redevelopment will propel affordable housing initiatives across town, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said during a Thursday press conference.

Propped up by nearly $2 billion in public financing and tax incentives, the potentially $5 billion plan to revitalize downtown’s 50-acre concrete wasteland calls for the creation of a $28 million, city-run affordable housing trust fund, which will help finance the construction and preservation of new units, offer residents down payment assistance and provide an anti-displacement fund to help legacy Atlantans stay in their homes.

On Thursday, Brian McGowan, president of Centennial Yards — developer CIM Group’s name for the mixed-use project — presented the City of Atlanta with a $33.5 million check, which, Bottoms said, will be used to fuel the trust fund and support other community benefits, such as workforce training and educational initiatives. 

The money went straight into the city’s general fund, although Bottoms said it will be earmarked for those uses before she leaves office. “It’s important that the details be included so that 20 or 30 years from now, everyone is clear on what the expectations are and what the agreements have been,” she said. “So there will be additional legislation before the city council to codify the use of this money in terms of the number of housing units.” 

The legislation is expected to be passed before December, Bottoms added.

From left: Brian McGowan, Keisha Lance Bottoms and Richard Ressler. (Credit: Sean Keenan)

CIM Group has promised Centennial Yards will include at least 200 affordable housing units priced for folks earning 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), although Richard Ressler, the firm’s co-founder and principal, said he expects the finished product will include more. 

“The anticipation was a minimum of 1,000 [residential] units, with 20 percent being affordable,” he said Thursday. “But it’s our current expectation that there will be multiples of that . . . And, given the demand for housing downtown, we think the 1,000 would be a very small fraction of the ultimate number of units. Twenty percent of that ultimate number will be permanently affordable.”

Today, the AMI for a family of four is roughly $86,000. Eighty percent of that is around $69,000. Housing experts have told Atlanta Civic Circle in the past that Atlanta is in most dire need of units priced instead for households earning 50 percent of the area median income (around $43,000) or less. 

Renderings and marketing materials for Centennial Yards show a glitzy downtown community, flush with high-end restaurants, retail offerings and residences — not the kind of place people imagine when thinking of “deep affordability.”

That’s where the affordable housing trust fund comes in handy, Bottoms said. “We, long ago, moved from the model where the expectation is that you could look at an affordable housing unit and know it is an affordable housing unit,” she said. “Part of the reason we looked for the flexibility of the affordable housing trust fund was so we could do more outside the footprint of centennial yards, if necessary, or more inside the footprint.”

The new trust fund would complement a similar program city officials are currently considering — one that, if approved, would devote 2 percent of the city’s general fund to affordable housing efforts annually.

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