Following an executive order by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta City Council members proposed an ordinance this week that would set in stone the community benefits promises to come from the Gulch redevelopment.

Part of developer CIM Group’s $5 billion rebirth of downtown’s 50-acre pit of parking spaces and railroad tracks is the creation of a $28 million affordable housing trust fund, public officials and developers agreed upon when the city council approved the project in 2018.  

During a press conference last week, Brain McGowan, president of Centennial Yards — the moniker for the mini-city slated to spawn from the Gulch — presented the City of Atlanta a $33.5 million check from the developer.

Bottoms’s Oct. 18 executive order directed the city’s chief financial officer to allocate that money for community benefits, including the trust fund, economic development programs, jobs training and educational initiatives. 

The accompanying ordinance proposal, which is expected to go to a vote in November, seeks to ratify the use of that cash. 

Nearly $21 million of that $33.5 million would be dedicated to affordable housing initiatives, “with $6,437,500 for the development of public land, $4.5 million for the provision of down payment assistance and $10 million for additional anti-displacement funding,” according to the legislation. 

Supported in part by nearly $2 billion in public financing and tax incentives, the Centennial Yards project has been criticized by community activists as a gentrification engine a la the Atlanta Beltline. Renderings for the project illustrate a swanky downtown business and entertainment district replete with high-end restaurants, residences and retail. 

CIM Group leaders often point to the project’s commitment to setting aside 20 percent of the potentially thousands of residences expected to sprout there, although housing affordability advocates worry their plans to price those units for households earning 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) is hardly an attempt to create “deep affordability” — housing priced for the most marginalized Atlantans.

Today, the AMI for a four-person household is about $86,000. Eighty percent of that is around $69,000. Housing experts say Atlanta desperately needs units priced instead for people earning 50 percent of the area median income (around $43,000) or less. 

That’s why the $28 million affordable housing trust fund is so important, Bottoms said at last week’s press conference. “Part of the reason we looked for 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,” she said. 

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