After working on model homes and infrastructure upgrades the past two years, the folks at Atlanta Habitat for Humanity are gearing up to start construction on additional homes in Browns Mill Village, the largest affordable housing development in the organization’s history.
The construction on the subdivision, located about 15 minutes southeast of downtown, will begin in January.
The development’s plans include 134 homes, which will be sold at varying prices, relative to the area median income (AMI). The City of Atlanta estimates that the average single-person household in metro Atlanta makes $60,400; the average four-person household earns $86,200.
Atlanta Habitat will build 75 of the units; those will be available for families at or below 80 percent AMI.
Atlanta Habitat President and CEO Lisa Gordon says Atlanta Habitat’s homes are usually sold at a lower price point to accommodate low-income first-time homebuyers.
“Most of our homeowners make between 30 percent and 50 percent of AMI,” Gordon says. “So a homeowner in our community, a single head-of-household, could make as little as $25,000. Our average homeowner is a single mom with two or three kids that makes about $32,000 a year. So that’s closer to 50 percent AMI.”
Five of the lots are earmarked for police officers through the Atlanta Police Foundation.
“Police officers sometimes have a difficult time getting quality housing in the city, just like everyone else,” Gordon said. “We also felt it was important for safety to have officers to be part of our community. We think that’s very positive.”
Atlanta Habitat’s remaining 70 homes are reserved for participants in their First-Time Homebuyer Program, currently at capacity, which helps residents build and buy an affordable and energy-efficient home.
The other 59 units in Browns Mill, a mix of townhomes and houses in a section of the subdivision called “SouthTown,” will be built by CityScape Housing, with help from Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc. on the first dozen homes. The homes will be offered at primarily “affordable-market rates,” and the remaining 12 homes will go for below 120 percent AMI.
Gordon described mixed-income neighborhoods as a key ingredient of a sustainable community.
“We think it’s important for there to be mixed-income so that you have opportunities for the community to be economically viable in the long term,” she said. “For many, many years, Browns Mill Village will be a community that people want to live in.”
Between seven to 10 families are scheduled to build their homes in Browns Mill next year. Gordon says the issue isn’t finding families who want to move in but securing the funding for a project of this magnitude.
Besides affordability, another key element of Browns Mill is the community amenities. The neighborhood will include greenspaces, gardens, and a soccer pitch that doubles as a detention pond to offset flash flooding, but should be dry most of the time.
“When we were in our previous subdivisions, one of the things I noticed is there were a lot of kids on their bikes, and there are a lot of kids in the community, but they didn’t really have a place to play,” Gordon said. “When you look at other communities, you see that model where there are amenities and the amenities bring people together, so it creates a sense of community.”
Once completed, the subdivision will be worth $25 million, according to Gordon.
Other developers had planned to turn the 31-acre lot into a subdivision more than a decade ago, but the project was abandoned during the Great Recession. The property has been vacant ever since, save for piles of dumped trash.
The folks at Atlanta Habitat wanted Browns Mill to increase the quality of life for folks living nearby, not just the new homeowners. During public outreach meetings, the community expressed concern over excess litter and an abandoned church near the property. In response, the team purchased the property, cleared the abandoned church, and cleaned up the lot.
“We’ve gotten input [from] them upfront about things that we were doing in the neighborhood,” Gordon said. “I think it’s just been building a positive relationship, eliminating some of the blight and the dumping and putting the land back into productive use.”
Ultimately, Browns Mill Village is a step toward Atlanta Habitat’s goal to provide affordable housing options that are attractive for reasons other than a lower price tag.
“We want to see all communities be ones that have amenities and ones that would be attractive [for] people to live in, independent of what income level they’re at,” Gordon said.